Underground film took on a whole new meaning at Sawy Culture Wheel’s 7th annual Documentary Film Festival which concluded on Wednesday.
In a shabby screening room under the 26th of July Bridge, Egypt’s film buffs gathered for three consecutive nights to watch the latest batch of locally produced documentaries that were, alas, underdeveloped to say the least.
The competition included 41 short (less than 20 minutes) and long (20-60 minutes) film from a mixture of professional and amateur filmmakers.
This mixture “allows the beginners to learn and watch respectable professional films. They [the filmmakers] speak with each other, there’s interaction between them without interference from us [the organizers],” chief organizer and curator Mohamed Rashad told Daily News Egypt.
In the past, the vast majority of Egyptian viewers have been relatively impartial to the documentary genre, typically preferring narrative features. But since the Jan 25 Revolution, it seems every Tom, Dick, and Harry is suddenly a filmmaker before an ever eager and emotional audience.
“There are more audience members than last year,” Rashad said. “It is likely because of the revolution films. Most people are still so captivated by it and are filled with such strong emotions for it.”
While the festival did have a wide range of documentary storytelling, the reoccurring theme of nearly quarter of the submitted films was most certainly the demonstrations.
The effort to document the 18 days of the uprising should be lauded, but, artistically, films like “The Fourth Day” and “An Egyptian Revolution Story” simply appeared as mere clips culled from YouTube newsreels strung together and set to sensationalized and forcefully ominous, overbearing music.
One notable entry that did break the mold of redundant footage and conventional structure was “Pieces of Game and Reality,” directed by Soha Raouf Tawfik. The movie presents a poetic analogy between life and chess game, conjuring symbolism from the black and white colors that represents good versus evil, and the names of the various chess pieces, King, Knight, Pawns.
Tawfik’s video is not as politically overt compared to other submissions. Contemporary references are, however, obliquely splattered in the analogy seen through narration: “The minister [chess piece] is the most important — it is the link between the ruler and the people. When the king piece stands alone, without his people, without his soldiers, he dies.”
The panel of judges, headed by veteran documentary film director, Fouad El Tohamy presented the winners with their cash prize awards: the Golden Awards taking LE 3,000 and the Silver receiving LE 1,500.
Taking the Golden Award for Best Documentary Feature (20-60 minutes) was Hisham Abdel Hamid’s 22-minute “Newly Born Egypt.” The two-part film opens with scenes from the 18 days of protests — a combination of newsreels and original footage. The second half concludes with Hamid asking lingering pedestrians in Tahrir Square what they see for the future of Egypt.
“I did not expect to win the award,” Hamid told Daily News Egypt. “There were so many other movies better than mine. I would have been happy with simply watching the other movies and having an audience view mine.”
“Unfortunate Matthew,” directed by Eyad Saleh Youssef Ahmed, took home the Silver Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film provides an interesting insight to the life of a Coptic Orthodox monk who is said to be responsible for the revival of Egyptian monasticism.
In the Short film category, the Golden Award went to Marian Wahba’s “For Egypt.” The eight-minute video pays homage to one of the Jan 25 Revolution martyrs via heartbreaking, yet inspirational interviews with his family members.
Both the festival and the filmmakers still have a long way to go. Thoroughly lacking a sense of curation, submissions should be critically evaluated before entrance to lift the bar.
Local film producer and audience member, Ahmed Samy said, “Some work was good, and some was completely uncreative. The revolution has made people less lazy about their art, they can now vocalize things they may not have been able to before. They are more active now, more involved. They come to these things [festivals] and meet other artists and collaborate on things. It’s exciting.”
While the festival may not be the catalyst to reach distributors, it does however allow filmmakers to reach an audience. The only way for festivals like Sawy’s to grow is for filmmakers to utilize such platforms to generate a buzz and identify their target audience.