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Zawya: Reviving old cinemas

Zawya hopes to provide a home for alternative cinema

Reviving old cinemas brings back a part of Egypt’s cultural heritage (Photo from Zawya Facebook page)
Reviving old cinemas brings back a part of Egypt’s cultural heritage
(Photo from Zawya Facebook page)

As you pass through Downtown Cairo, you are surrounded by buildings and shops that belong to an age long gone. Sometimes these buildings house cinemas, which were famous in the 1950s and 1960s and in some cases, long before that. One such cinema house is Odeon, which up until recently was mostly ignored. However, a new initiative called Zawya is set to bring all the glory and fame back to these cinemas. We spoke to Menna Ellaithy, the communications manager of the initiative.

“[We are] a group of young people who are passionate about cinema and are dissatisfied with what is being offered in the regular film theatres in Egypt,” said Ellaithy. “They are the same people who worked on the 6th edition of the Panorama of the European film, which took place in November 2013. The Zawya/Panorama team works under the supervision of director and producer Marianne Khoury.”

Ellaithy said that the idea for the initiative is the brainchild of Marianne Khoury and it had been on her mind for many years.  “What brought it to light was the success of the annual Panorama of the European Film. More and more people started demanding a permanent space that can screen the kind of films that usually does not see the light in the Egyptian market. Therefore, we all had the impression it was time for Zawya: an art-house cinema screen that can operate throughout the year to cater to the rising demand for alternative cinema,” she explained.

Odeon is the first of many other cinemas to be revived, and patrons of those cinemas will be treated to different kinds of films than those offered in main stream movie theatres. “We intend to offer a diverse programme including all genres of films:  features, shorts, documentaries, retrospectives and award-winning films from the Arab Region, Europe and all over the world with a special focus on independent productions,” Ellaithy said.

Zawya is highly needed, as most independent films get screened at culture centres rather than a legitimate movie theatre. “We just want the people who stopped going to the film theatres to start going again. We also want to focus on ‘Cinema and Education’ by collaborating with universities and schools in Egypt to strengthen the idea of education through cinema,” Ellaithy explained.

The opening of Odeon cinema is set to take place on 12 March.

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