For one day it’ll be like the world is sitting round a giant camp fire! declared American TV presenter Lisa Ling at the start of Pangea Day on Saturday night.
How her words and the Pangea Day motto (“Pangea Day plans to use the power of film to bring the world a little closer together ) grated on the great unwashed masses without VIP passes who attended Pangea Day in Cairo.
People were brought together at the Pyramids, but rather in the way members of the nobility were forced to involuntarily come into contact with their vassals while surveying their lands. The organizers of Pangea Day were careful to ensure that not even this degree of fraternization occurred between the precious VIPs and the rest of us, the common ones who, alas, they had to invite because otherwise it would just be 150 people sitting on sofas in the desert. And that’s not very Pangea, is it!
Pangea is the name given to the world before the continental drift happened and all the countries of the world were still bonded together in one big blob.
American Egyptian documentary filmmaker (“Control Room ) and Pangea Day creator Jehane Noujaim won the TED Prize in 2006, a $100,000 prize given by the annual Technology Entertainment Design conference, which grants winners “a wish to change the world.
She used the prize to create a day on which locations in Cairo, Kigali, Rio de Janeiro, London, Los Angeles and Mumbai would be linked through four hours of films, music and visionary speakers, broadcasted simultaneously across this war-torn feuding planet so that “people can see themselves through others, through the power of film and focus on what they have in common, rather than what separates them.
Unfortunately, at the Pyramids the plebs were separated from their VIP pass-holding brethren by a barrier which herded them into a raised elevated platform behind the opulent VIP area immediately in front of the stage.
Such was the segregation that there were two separate entrances and two separate parking lots and, to rub in it even further, the organizers had for some reason known only to themselves placed the plebs’ chairs approximately 30 meters back from the barrier making it even more difficult to see the stage.
As is logical, the non-VIPs dragged their chairs over to the barrier and watched as below the VIPs sat in Shangri-la on their luxury sofas being fed sushi and alcoholic beverages by white-gloved waiters while we (ineluctably, because there was nothing else on offer and we were in the desert) ate curly fries and meat-based products from a fast-food chain which had erected a tent behind us.
Egyptian actor/TV host Khaled Aboul Naga cheered things up when he bounced on stage to briefly talk about the Pangea Day concept, which included a world music segment when bands from across the globe would perform. Egypt offered Wust El-Balad (scheduled performer Mohamed Mounir had cancelled at last minute) who sang a song about there being no black or white and no divisions between people.
It is difficult to overstate just how much the event’s organization lent a painful irony to the whole proceedings. This was possibly the single event where Cairo’s penchant for exclusivity – and exclusion – conflicted, violently, with the night’s ethos. It was like holding a Greenpeace annual conference in a nuclear power station.
Exhibit A: Shots of the audience were shown in all six cities. In Egypt these shots were restricted to the VIPs, ignoring the riff raff at the back almost entirely. Egypt was the sole location out of the six to feature such blatant severance.
Exhibit B: A short film in which we see men playing volleyball over a giant wall constructed on the US-Mexico border. The non-VIPs watch the VIPs eating sushi from the barrier like a load of Oliver Twists.
Some of the films – despite a few embarrassing technical glitches – were original and thought-provoking. The most outstanding offering was “Inja (Dog), a film from South Africa directed by Steve Paslovsky.
Dog is an unusual exploration of the evils of apartheid. A young boy employed on a white Afrikaans farmer’s farm adopts a puppy for whom he makes a collar out of the rope used to hoist up a flag on the farm.
In the next scene the farmer instructs the boy to put the puppy in a sack before proceeding to kick him savagely while he tells the boy, “He must learn.
He then instructs the boy to open the sack, despite the latter’s protests that the crying puppy would think it was him that beat him – which is in fact what happens, and the puppy grows into a dog which attacks black people.
The farmer eventually pays the price, however, when he has a heart attack in a field while erecting a fence with the boy who has now grown into an adult farmhand. When the farmhand attempts to approach the farmer in order to give him the pills which will save the dying man, he is prevented from doing so by the dog, which attacks him.
A poignant film from France showed a man who gets on an underground train and announces to the passengers that he is a single man looking for love and marriage and invites interested woman to get off at the next stop.
One woman follows the man’s speech avidly and rushes off at the next stop only to be told by the man through the window of the train, “Madame, it was a sketch.
Pangea night was an occasion for finding and celebrating commonalities within the divisions which separate people while ignoring the reasons behind these divisions.
This was illustrated by a film called “Road Work in which a US soldier in Iraq who photographed the aftermath of a fatal accident between a US army vehicle and a civilian car carrying a father and son.
The soldier reflects on the causes of the accident (“what if we had turned our headlights on? ) and compares the father’s grief with his own at the loss of his infant daughter. This is a very personal testimony, and, like all the films shown on Pangea Day, does not concern itself with bothersome details about political responsibility or finger-pointing. Rather, world evils such as war and hunger are painted over with the veneer of individual inspirational stories in a Live Aid fashion; only without the fundraising.
I suppose that there is a place for all this, but this type of hope-and-love peddling is not everyone’s cup of tea.
This writer and her companions were also not touched by the feelings of world unity described in personal testimonies on the Pangea Day website, but this may have had more to do with the event’s organization, or our stony hearts, rather than Pangea Day itself!