Two exciting film events are happening this May in Cairo. Unfortunately, they overlap by three days, so this article contains some events happening at the same time. It’s not my fault.
The French Cultural Center is currently hosting the 11th Rencontres de L’Image: A seven-day festival for 24 Egyptian short documentaries and fiction films alongside a rich out-of-competition section of 10 titles. Other than the exciting list of competing shorts, the latter program includes names like Eric Rohmer, Agnes Varda and Youssef Chahine. All competition screenings are followed by discussions with the filmmakers.
Starting on May 6 is Zawya’s Hybrid Reels, a 20-day documentary festival taking place for the first time. Its heavyweight line-up is put together by Alia Ayman, Zawya’s resident curator, and includes Abbas Kiarostami, Jean Luc Godard, Jaafar Panahi, Michael Gondry and Laura Poitras.
These titles add to a hot season of documentaries at Zawya, after the last Kurrasat program and the AFAC Film Week, both curated by Rima Mismar and favoring documentaries, D-CAF’s film program curated by Rasha Salti, and Zawya’s own release, Salma El Tarzi’s Underground on the Surface.
Hybrid Reels also hosts talks, discussions and workshops to “highlight the areas of intersection and divergence between documentary film, visual art, activism, theatrics and the fiction film. Additionally, we aim to explore the relationship between funding sources and the hegemony of certain aesthetics within the genre as a whole.” This side program is put together by Ayman and Seen Films, taking place at Zawya and ROOM.
1. Shorts in Competition: May 2 – May 7, starting at 6:30 pm
You will almost certainly miss these 24 shorts, all produced between 2014 and 2015 and selected from more than 100 films, if you don’t go watch them as part of the festival: There’s a very weak chance that you’ll get to see them in other venues. And a selection of 24 new Egyptian shorts is not to be missed.
The festival jury includes: Critic and film curator for “Rencontres d’Aflam” at Marseille Film Festival, Taher Chikhaou; independant filmmaker Nadia Kamel (Salata Baladi, 2008), who’s worked as assistant director for leading filmmakers in Egypt including Atteyat al-Abnoudy, Youssef Chahine and Yousri Nasrallah; and Islam al-Azzazi (Nahar We Leil, 2006), whose film won best actor and production during the 2nd Rencontres de L’Image.
2. Young critic Fatma Amer curates two nights:
A Look at Eric Rohmer, May 4, 8:30 pm
The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1962, Rohmer), 26 minutes
Presentation, or Charlotte and her Steak (1951, Rohmer), 12 minutes
All The Boys Are Called PATRICK (1959, by Jean Luc Godard and written by Rohmer), 20 minutes
Spring 89 (2009, Ayten Amin, written by Wessam Soliman), 20 minutes
Shorts by Big Filmmakers, May 5, 8.30 pm
Cairo As Told by Chahine (1991, Youssef Chahine), 23 minutes
All The World’s Memory (1956, Alain Resnais), 21 minutes
Hello the Cubans (1963, Agnes Varda), 28 minutes
Carte Blanche by Taher Chikhawi
This is not the first program Taher Chikhaoui has presented in Cairo. Last November Chikhawi curated Cimatheque’s Kurrasat program, showing Algerian documentary Ask Your Shadow (2012), Tunisian documentary Babel (2012) and Death for Sale (2011). He’s one of the Arab-French critics most aware of new talents emerging in Arab countries and Africa. Both films Taher is bringing to Rencontres de L’Image participated in Carthage Film Festival in 2014.
3. Chantier A (2013) Tarek Sami, Lucie Dèche and Karim Loualiche. May 7, 8:30 pm
In this documentary, Karim returns home to Algeria after 10 years abroad and tries to question his memory for the reasons he left in the first place. Tarek Sami will be present for a Q&A after the screening.
4. Bidoun 2 (2014) Jilani Saadi. May 8, 7 pm
Besides being part of the official competition at Carthage 2014, fiction film Bidoun 2 received a special mention from the jury of the Mediterranean Festival of Tetouan. While Tunisia is in turmoil as a new constitution is being drafted, an accidental meeting occurs. Saadi will be present for a Q&A.
The festival is divided into three categories: Narratives, Anthropology on the Screen/Beginnings and Highlights.
5. Close-Up (1990) Abbas Kiarostami. May 7, 7:30pm
This is perhaps Kiarostami’s most critically acclaimed film. It’s a film I fell in love with instantly. Not your typical documentary, most of its scenes include dramatization of the events that led to the trial of Hossain Sabzian, accused of fraud for pretending to be filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The film documents the trial too. Zawya is bringing a 35mm copy of this classic masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it yet, this is a must-see.
6. The Virgin, the Copts and Me (2012) Namir Abdel Messeeh. May 12, 7.30 pm
Namir is an Egyptian Copt living in France. During a family visit he hears the story of the appearance of Virgin Mary in Egypt. With the help of residents of his family’s rural home town, he recreates the appearance of the Virgin and documents the process. The film was critically acclaimed and had a good festival round through Tribeca, the Berlin Film Festival and the International Documentary Association, where it won the Audience Jury Award.
In relation to those last two titles, filmmaker Rania Rafei will talk about reenactment as a documentary technique:
Re-constructing reality as a document, Rania Rafei: 23 May, 12 pm, Zawya
In this talk Rafei will offer a glimpse at the work of director Peter Watkins. Through addressing his use of both reality and fiction, rigid historical narratives will be questioned to explore their intersection with the boundaries of imagination and documentation.
Panahi and Godard: Questioning the visual
There is a link in my opinion between French filmmaker Jean Luc-Godard and his Iranian counterpart Jafar Panahi. Not just their leftist views, but also their ongoing questioning and investigation of visual media and cinema. Their films can be about anything, but most of all they’re about film itself. Hybrid Reels has one film by each of the famous directors.
7. Here and Elsewhere (1976) Jean Luc-Godard. May 8, 7:30 pm
Here and Elsewhere marks a shift in Godard’s style after his radical hits of the 1960s and early 1970s such as Breathless, Contempt and Pierrot le fou. It also marks the start of his longtime collaboration with Anne-Marie Miéville, who’s also his companion. The footage used is taken from a militant film Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin had made as part of the Dziga Vertov Group. Between Paris and Palestine, the issue of representation is questioned as well as the Dziga Vertov Group and the ideology of its participants. This is one of the most important European film essays and one of the most referred to when talking about representation of the other in a European context.
8. Closed Curtain (2013) Jafar Panahi. May 11, 7:30 pm
Panahi has just won Berlin’s Golden Berlin Bear for this year for his last film, Taxi (2015). Closed Curtain, his previous film, has this element of visual questioning and breaking narrative rules in order to expose how visuals work. Like in his This is Not a Film (2011), Closed Curtain starts as fiction but then Panahi and the crew start to appear in front of the camera. Like most of his recent films it is hard to categorize, and like most of the films in the Narratives section it’s something between documentary and fiction. The film won Berlin’s Silver Bear for best script in 2013.
9. Egyptian Landmarks and Samir Ouf, May 16, 12pm
This is another rare chance to watch Egyptian documentaries. This selection has four strong short documentaries and experimental films by Shadi Abdel Salam (The Mummy, 1970), Tawfik Saleh (Darb El Mahabil, 1955) and two experimental documentaries by Samir Ouf, one of Egypt’s most important documentary filmmakers and a pioneer of the form. The screening will be followed by a talk given by Ouf himself.
Afaq (1973), Shadi Abdel Salam
The Art of Puppetry, Tawfik Saleh.
Cairo 1830, Samir Ouf
Two Faces in Space, Samir Ouf
Castaing-Taylor and Paravel work at the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, an interdisciplinary center for making anthropologically informed media works that combine aesthetics and ethnography. Using tiny waterproof cameras, the film documents the commercial fishing industry in the north Atlantic. The film was received very well and won the Don Quixote Award – Special Mention at Locarno film festival.
After-screening discussion with Kiven Strohm
Kiven Strohm obtained his PhD in anthropology from the Université de Montréal (2013) and an MA in philosophy and cultural analysis from the University of Amsterdam. His teaching and research interests include the anthropology of the visual, comprising visual art and experimental film, the relation of aesthetics and politics, anthropology as/of politics, and colonialism and practices of decolonization.
11. Kismet: How Soap Opera Changed The World (2014) Nina Maria Paschalidou. May 17, 7:30 pm
This transnational documentary looks into the audience side of the widely pool of followers for the Turkish Soap Operas, mainly women in the Arab World. Paschalidou realized at a certain point that “Turkish soaps, popular mainly in the Middle East, Balkans and North Africa, have a unique influence on female viewers: they inspire and arouse them.”
12. The Amina Profile (2015), Sophie Deraspie. May 23, 7:30 pm
Coming from Sundance’s official selection, this documentary recalls the story of Amina Arraf, who became a star blogger when her online Montreal girlfriend encouraged her to launch “A Gay Girl in Damascus.” This story didn’t end well as Arraf got kidnapped and an international campaign ensued after Syria entered the Arab Spring in 2011. This is a very recent release and it’s interesting to have it screened in Cairo.
13. Citizen Four (2014), Laura Poitras. May 22, 7:30 pm
This is the 2015 Academy Award winning documentary by renowned documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. She follows Edward Snowden’s leaks from the NSA, from the moment when Snowden communicates with her. She then moves to film the process of publishing the biggest leaks in history. This can easily be one of the most important films of 2014, documenting the biggest whistleblower case in history.
14. Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? (2013) Michel Gondry. May 20, 7:30 pm
This is a hand-animated documentation of a series of interviews Gondry had with philosopher Noam Chomsky. Gondry is the director of the Academy Award winner Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004) and The Science of Sleep (2006). Gondry’s French accent and Chomsky’s deep insight into issues like continuity and acquiring language makes for a very entertaining and insightful film.
15. Concerning Violence (2014) Göran Olsson. May 24, 7:30 pm
This co-production between Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the US is based on Frantz Fanon’s text of the same name. Göran Olsson use archival footage to narrate the events of African liberation struggles from colonial rule in the 1960s and 1970s. Narrated by musician Lauryn Hill, it’s another Sundance premiere and the trailer looks very interesting.
16. Finding Vivian Maier (2013), John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. May 25, 7:30 pm
Viviam Maier was a street photographer whose work was all but unknown during her lifetime. John Maloof recounts the process of discovering her works and, after her death, uncovering her life as a nanny and a photographer in Chicago through interviews with people who knew her. This one looks like a very formal documentary, but Maier’s work is interesting and it looks like a good opportunity to check out her work and its development.