The third Cairo Documentary Festival kicked off on Sunday evening the American University in Cairo’s Ewart Hall, with an impressive schedule of documentary films by local and international directors under the themes of “Egypt Rising” and “Neighboring Nations.”
The opening program included three feature-length films by Egyptian directors. Given new context by recent events in Egypt, the films exemplified the diversity and spirit of life in Egypt, and the poignant struggles of Egyptians to overcome the power of destiny to create a better future.
In “Stories of Al Fagallah” (2011), director Mohamed Abdelbary captured the history and heritage of the old Cairo district of the same name. The ethnographic film allowed viewers to become neighborhood “insiders” through up close and personal engagement with three young locals.
The camera took the audience behind the scenes to explore the vibrant history of the neighborhood, which was previously a hub for publishing, music and art, and looked at how local artists like Mohamed Abla were attempting to revive the area’s rich cultural heritage. A charming portrait of a prodigious district, Abdelbary’s film was a much-needed documentation of the rapidly changing life in Cairo.
Mai Eskandar’s “Garbage Dreams” (2009), an award-winning documentary about Egypt’s Zabaleen district, was a sensitive look at the creative ways Egypt’s underclass of garbage collectors struggled for survival. The film followed the stories of three young friends and their quest to attain new lives, far from the garbage heaps of their childhood.
Eskandar’s film, which was shortlisted for the Oscar’s documentary feature category, managed to be at once informative, moving and entertaining. A dynamic cinematic style combined with professional camera work and outstanding directing made for a well-edited and cohesive portrait of a unique community.
Another standout was “Nomad’s Home” (2010), a portrait of Sinai Bedouin women by Iman Kamal. The film interspersed a record of the daily lives of female members of the tribe with the director’s own reflections on the meaning of being a nomad in the modern world and the choices she had made in her own life. A rare look at female Bedouin life, Kamal’s film was visually pleasing and introspective; each shot exhibited the filmmaker’s obvious passion for the landscape and lifestyle of Sinai.
Monday evening’s program showcased films about modern Turkey from different perspectives. Zeynep Devrim Gursel’s short film “Coffee Futures,” a look at Turkish perceptions of the country’s quest to become a member of the European Union through the traditional medium of coffee ground readings, offered a whimsical yet penetrating portrayal of the ambivalence many Turks feel about being framed as European.
A feature length documentary by AUC professor Amy Holmes, “Imperial Outposts,” shed light on the domestic controversy surrounding the presence of American military personnel in Turkey and how resistance against this presence had shifted in form and tactic since the ‘60s. Holmes’ painstaking documentation of the little-understood issue shed ample light on Turkey’s complex and singular experience of social change.
Tuesday evening hosted an eclectic program consisting of three films on Palestine along with an assortment of “unexpected stories.” Highlights of the evening included Yasmin Moll’s “Fashioning Faith” which centered on Muslim fashion designers in Manhattan who were attempting to redefine what it meant to be a fashion designer and challenging perceptions of Muslim women in the process. Moll’s film gave voice to a group that had little opportunity to speak in the past, providing a new perspective on Muslims in the United States.
Directed by Amahl Bishara and Nidal Al-Azraq, “Degrees of Incarceration” (2009) examined the familiar but perennially relevant subject of Palestinian prisoners. This instructive feature-length film offered a fact-based portrait of the sheer scale of political incarceration amongst residents of the West Bank. The facts were given context with an account of the impact of large-scale imprisonment on Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, and the distinctively Palestinian ways in which the residents delt with their fate.
The festival was organized by AUC’s Department of Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology and Egyptology. It lived up to its reputation as one of the city’s most compelling film events.
The Cairo Documentary Film Festival runs through Saturday at AUC’s Downtown and New Cairo campuses.
Zeynep Devrim Gursel’s “Coffee Futures,” takes a look at Turkish perceptions of the country’s quest to become a member of the European Union.
Mai Eskandar’s “Garbage Dreams” is a sensitive look at the creative ways Egypt’s underclass of garbage collectors struggles for survival.