Citizenship through art

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

The fifth cultural festival Mowatenoun Am Ra’eya (Citizens or Flock?) kicked off last Thursday at the Jesuit Cultural Center in Cairo with a high turnout for the two-month event.

The festival promises plenty of action, with films, documentaries, theatrical performances, seminars, concerts, workshops, a small book fair, a photography and caricature exhibition along with a number of lectures reflecting on the concept of citizenship. It will run until the beginning of August.

The event opened with a performance by famous brass band Hasaballah, which marched across the Fagallah neighborhood where the culture center is located.

Following the march, members of the American University in Cairo’s Al Masnaa (The Factory) troupe staged a performance. Titled “Beat from the Street, the performance uses ordinary objects like metal buckets, ashtrays and keys in a show inspired by renowned non-traditional dance troupe Stomp.

Musical outfit Ana Masry (I’m Egyptian) concluded the opening ceremony, presenting a collection of Islamic Sufi chanting and Christian hymns both integrated to bridge differences through art. This theme is one of this year’s festival’s several focal points.

“We intended to indirectly create a state of Muslim-Christian harmony through art, band founder Ehab Abdou told Daily News Egypt.

The band also sang covers of late 19th century revolutionary composer and singer Sayed Darwish as well as folkloric and Nubian songs.

As for the intriguing title of the festival, the Cultural Coordinator of the center Mostafa Wafi explained: “We thought about tackling the pressing issue of citizenship in today’s Egypt, especially after it had been raised during the 2004 National Democratic Party Conference.

“This year’s cultural program tries to figure out whether we are independent citizens or just followers, Jesuit Media Coordinator Mahmoud Mokhtar added.

The cultural center, according to Mokhtar, encouraged participating artists to focus on this particular theme, tailoring their messages in service of this concept.

One activity to begin on July 23 is a film workshop for beginners. The one-week workshop will provide participants with the technical know-how required for producing a one to three-minute digital film.

Filmmaker Hossam Gamal Eddin offered his expertise in the past two years for the center, assigning trainees specific themes to work around. “This year I preferred to leave a space for participants’ creativity and let them choose the subjects they will work on, he said.

During the festival, several films directed by female filmmakers who graduated from the Jesuit Cinema School and other independent directors will be screened prior to some of the festival’s seminars in order to direct attention to the serious subjects on their agenda.

The festival is not free of surprises; one specific incident raised questions about copyrights and the festival’s organization.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Amal Fawzy was shocked to find her documentary “Welad El-Kabsh (Residents of El-Kabsh District) on the festival’s list.

“Nobody from the Jesuit Association requested my permission to screen the film during the program. I have no idea how they got a copy of it, she told Daily News Egypt.

“I wonder what the value is of screening a film without interaction between the filmmaker and the viewers in the discussion after the screening, she asked.

The Mowatenoun Am Ra’eya festival will go on until August 7 at the Jesuit premises in Fagallah.

The Jesuit Association was founded in 1998 upon an initiative made by the Jesuit Fathers and Brothers (Jesuites) in addition to members of Muslim and Christian groups.

The association provides children and youth, especially those belonging to lower social brackets, with the opportunity to learn, express themselves and be exposed to different art forms.

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