Amateur filmmakers break the rules in Second Cairo Mobile Film Festival

Daily News Egypt
8 Min Read

The intimate, personal works of a number of novice directors using the latest art tools have been briefly put under the spotlight last week at the Second Cairo Mobile Film Festival, which ended on Tuesday.

Qafilat Hala institution and Egyptian production company Good News 4me organized the festival, which showcased a series of small, short productions bursting with scenes from contemporary Cairo. The most remarkable aspect of these films was their authenticity and ingenuity in capturing Cairo’s daily life; qualities that have constantly eluded mainstream Egyptian films.

The young, amateur filmmakers have opted to avoid any complex cinematic technicalities, focusing instead on basic issues and simple, yet highly expressive images. For five consecutive days, Cairenes were treated to 65 short shots on digital cell phone cameras, screening at a number of black booths, equipped with laptops and headphones, set up at universities, coffee shops, art galleries and cultural centers.

Nihad Nour El Din, Business Development manager of Good News, told Daily News Egypt that the concept of the festival intrigued him, mainly because of how intimate this revolutionary form of filmmaking can be. Well known, common problems plaguing the lives of most young people such as unemployment, were expected to dominate the subject matter of these stories. What Nour El Din didn’t foresee was the surge of creativity these filmmakers could churn out from topics that were hitherto discussed to death.

The event lacked the kind of publicity aimed to capture media attention. The festival organizers were targeting passersby and bystanders; an audience familiar with Hala’s street theaters and other similar projects they have organized. The placard-faced booths piqued the interest of random viewers from different ages and backgrounds to take a peek at these odd-looking figures.

Many of the screened films are works in progress. Founded on short scripts, acted out by friends and edited using software such as Windows Movie Maker or Adobe Premiere, the high artistic level of these short shots have proved that “Mobile Art is a true and valid art, not a mere fad.

The festival is part of a bigger event expected to attract around 1,000 submissions till August. A competition will take place shortly afterwards, judged by a panel of jurors.

This new medium is attracting major media and entertainment players in the Arab World interested in purchasing such ‘user-generated content’ and presenting them directly to the audience in its raw format without making any modifications.

“There are companies in the Arab world that have started to make TV series and sitcoms for mobiles, Nour El Din said. These projects, along with other activities and workshops will be added to the August edition.

Among the highlights of the festival was “Bokra Eih? (What will tomorrow bring?) by 21-year-old director Eslam Nour. Nour is a student at the Faculty of Commerce and has woven subjects that range from poverty and apathetic university graduates to staggering high prices, high divorce rates and addiction all weaved into a powerful story.

Shot in one week and edited in four days, the most challenging aspect of Nour’s film was, naturally, the non-existent budget and facilities. After shooting the film, he realized that the audio was too low and so he was forced to add subtitles.

The film boasts a variety of distinctive characters: a divorced woman whose parents work abroad, an unemployed divorcee struggling to find a job, and helpless drug addicts failing to come up with a solution to their basic problems.

The character of young divorced women was the main driving force behind Nour’s story. “There are around one million young divorcees aged 21 to 27, he said. “In a conservative society like ours, there’s a lot of social pressure on these women, especially those from humble backgrounds.

Prior to shooting “Bokra Eih? Nour approached Hemaya, Amr Khaled’s anti-drug campaign, with a project of his. “People there refused to help me, he said.

The rejection compelled him to rely on himself and whatever resources he could muster, hoping that the seriousness of his work would attract attention and even help cause affect change. “Ministries should pay attention to us and live our reality, he said.

“Our generation should be more aware of the current political and economic situation, they should be more responsible. Nour admits though that “no one wants to listen.

Film critic Tarek El Shennawy, who headed the jury of last year’s festival and who will reassume his position in August, had a different opinion about the films. “Most of these films are documentaries or short films that directly record our reality, El Shennawy told Daily News Egypt. “There is no such thing as mobile art.

El Shennawy explained that mobile films should tell an unprepared story. A mobile camera doesn’t provide depth of dimension or proper lighting modes. They simply capture an event, an incident that has happened in a minute and present it the way it is without any tarnishing.

“Mobile films are not an alternative to digital cameras. Telling a story using a pre-prepared script isn’t its role.

“Ihna Kteer Awy (We Are Too Many), a Hala-produced project, is an example of Egyptian cinéma vérité of the 80s that’s currently making a big comeback with such efforts. The protagonist is a shoe-shine who is stopped by a ‘mokhber’ (a low-ranking police informer) and asked to show his ID. The simplicity of the event around which the story is built conceals a biting political commentary that transcends the shaky camera and modest visuals.

There seems to be a strong potential market for these movies. Some of the submitted films were not eligible though, partly because a number of them were regarded as spoofs, others infringed copyright laws, while some violated human rights. Similarly, some of last year’s submissions were disqualified for containing violent or pornographic material. Some of the films were also marred with technical problems that made them difficult to watch.

New technology is becoming the ultimate tool for self expression, conveying the fears and frustrations of a generation confronting a harsh, inescapable reality. Filmmaking used to be a luxurious art form mastered by the privileged few; that’s not the case anymore.

Despite its small budget and challenging outcome, the Mobile Festival could change the landscape of moviemaking in Egypt in the long run. And judging by the reaction of the audiences, there’s no stopping these filmmakers from breaking rules and challenging conventions.

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