Cairo’s 11th Independent Film Festival offers a wealth of perspectives

The courtyard of downtown’s Goethe Institute was overflowing Sunday evening as the 11th edition of Cairo’s Independent Film Festival opened with a performance of the acoustic revolutionary anthem “Sout Al Horreya” by Hany Adel and Amir Aid. The theme of this year’s festival is “New Shorts from Egypt,” with 24 films about Egypt by both Egyptian and foreign filmmakers.

Though the majority of the festival’s films are quite short, the opening film, “Beit Sha’ar,” (Nomad’s Home) by Iman Kamel was one hour long. Kamel’s film set a slow-paced and meditative tone for the evening.

“Beit Sha’ar” is a documentary guided by Kamel as she spends time with Selema – a Bedouin woman who forged her own path as the first girl in her community to go to school. The film winds its way through Selema’s story with long shots of Sinai. Kamel narrates much of the film, shifting between Arabic and English. Though ostensibly about a Bedouin woman’s life, the film oscillates between Selema’s story and Kamel’s, tracing common threads between the lives of people who do not stay in one place. Kamel repeatedly points to the irony that Selema – though descended from nomads – lives in a house among her community. Selema is rooted to her home and to Sinai, while Kamel, an Egyptian from Cairo who has spent most of her adult life in Germany, lives everywhere and nowhere. “I am the Bedouin,” says Kamel. “I travel in my fantasy,” says Selema.

Kamel works hard to weave folk tales into her film, imbuing it with a mythical tone. She shrouds herself in mystery, never revealing her face. Sometimes we see the back of her head, a strand of hair, her glasses, or the tip of her nose. At the end of the film she stands by the Red Sea in a long red-orange dress, staring across the water. It’s an image of myth – the woman and water – but as beautiful as Kamel’s film is, it feels as though the experience is more spiritual for her than for the viewer.

Subsequent films shared the quiet tone and sparse dialogue of “Beit Sha’ar”.

In “Colored Black,” by Ahmed al-Samra, a dour mother sadly sits on a city bench until she finally bursts into laughter at her cute and funny son. 

Two films focused on romantic relationships, interweaving courtship with the city. “Boredom”, by Salma G. Zaki, is a short film that shows a sexual connection forged between two Cairene artistic types without much to do.

Set in Alexandria at sunset, “A Popular Copy” by Islam Kamal interweaves the city with the desires and frustrations of young Egyptians. The film shows the amount of emotional terrain that can be covered in 20 minutes.

“A Popular Copy” tells the story of two young men and women in Alexandria and their rendezvous in front of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The film is full of long shots of street scenes, sharing the meandering pace of other films on view, but is infused with a welcome dose of humor. As the two young men await their dates, they watch foreigners coming in and out of the library. One expresses disgust at the way the foreigners kiss and touch each other, but his friend disagrees, “Those foreigners who come to the Bibliotheca are respectable people!”

Later, one man employs the mundane pick up line, “Do you have Vodafone or Mobinil?” Though the comedy is understated, the film elicited laughs from the crowd.

This year’s Independent Film Festival is offering up a wealth of films, giving young filmmakers working in Egypt good exposure. The festival continues on Monday and Tuesday, concluding with guest short films by German filmmakers from Dok Leipzig, a documentary and animated film festival. There will also be an awards ceremony honoring the best director, script, sound, editing and photography. The best film in the festival will receive a cash award for Extraordinary Achievement.

The Independent Film Festival takes place on 22-24 May in the courtyard at the Goethe Institute, 5 Bustan Street, Downtown, Cairo

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