‘Cima Ali Baba’ paving the way for Egyptian shorts

The last three films — “H-Dabbour,” 2008; “Fly,” 2009; and “No Retreat, No Surrender: The Bloody Fist,” 2010 — starring filmmaker, screenwriter, actor and rapper Ahmed Mekky were outright comedies.

With this in mind, viewers flocked to see his “Cima Ali Baba” (Ali Baba’s Cinema) released during the Eid holiday, only to be surprised. The humor and wit are still there, but the jokes are simple and the focus is on the experience.

“Cima Ali Baba” can be accurately described as an experimental production in the Egyptian film market.

The film is being marketed as “two films in one.” In the first short, titled “Go Kill Them All and Come Back Alone: Star Wars,” Mekky returns as the freckle-faced Hazal’om, the protagonist of “No Retreat, No Surrender,” only this time, the shabby young man is saving the universe instead of Egypt. In “The Cock Is in the Barn,” the second short in “Cima Ali Baba” Mekky plays the role of a rooster who eventually saves a farm.

The name of the film "Cima Ali Baba" is taken from an old working class movie theater in Giza, one that used to screen a program of films back-to-back at affordable ticket prices in the 1970s. Over the years, the name “Cima Ali Baba” became synonymous with movie theaters that show more than one film on the same ticket.

Mekky's latest film is a pioneer, whose success might open the way for the production and screening of shorts in commercial movie theaters. Local production companies see short films as a risk and very few venues host their screenings. Currently, they are mostly screened at cultural centers. “Cima Ali Baba” succeeds in penetrating the mainstream, mostly owing to its famous cast and big budget, but also because of its popular, non-elitist themes.

“Go Kill Them All and Come Back Alone: Star Wars” is a parody of nearly every space and science fiction movie from “Avatar” and “The Lord of the Rings” to “Mazinger.” Augmentin, an alien named after the well-known antibiotic, kidnaps Hazal’om and takes him to planet Revo — the brand name of a widely used aspirin in Egypt. Revo’s ruler has been killed and Hazal’om is to fill in his place. With time Hazal’om discovers that he has become part of a conspiracy against the universe, as a group of corrupt officials are trading weapons and beginning a universal war.

The idea of the short seems simple, but it has deeper comment on the way Egyptians view the current moment; as conspiracy theories terrify many, Mekky manages to destroy the paranoia with his sarcasm.

"The Cock Is in the Barn" is a different story about an animal farm attacked and taken over by hyenas. They take all of its produce and work its animals mercilessly. As the animals try to flee the farm, Rex, the farm’s dog, persuades them to stay by promising them that a cock named Habashi will come to save them soon, giving them hope in the future.

As the years pass by, no Habashi shows up, but the animals unite around another rooster, driving the hyenas away. The real bravery of the animals came from within, with only a bit of encouragement needed to tease it out.

“Cima Ali Baba” has the potential to bring attention to short films and the limited support they receive, opening up the genre to new filmmakers and casts and diversifying its themes and techniques; and all this at more affordable prices for moviegoers.

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