There was no introduction to the screenings; the films simply started playing. Five short films by four young filmmakers were shown last Sunday at Rawabet Theater in Downtown Cairo, covering issues that ranged from autism to hypocrisy and the political and social crises afflicting the Arab world with no unified theme to link them.
The screening is an initiative of the group El-Takaeiba with the support of Townhouse Gallery and Arab Creators Community for Short and Digital Movies. The organizers hope that by holding such screenings each Sunday night, an audience for short indie film can be fostered; consequently sustaining a permanent venue for filmmakers to show their work.
Dressing old predicaments in contemporary attire; the shadow of the past loomed over the evening with three of the films based on the works of great Egyptian writers Salah Jahin and Tawfiq El-Hakim.
It seems that no matter how far into trouble our societies drift, the parallels with the past remain just as true. The roots are deep, but must Egyptian art always rely on the voice of the past to churn credible works?
The evening kicked off with Nourhan Metwaly’s “Alboum Sowar (Photo Album), which centers on a young man, trapped by autism, whose only link to the world is through his camera and the photographs he takes.
In order to portray this misunderstood brain disorder, the director spent a year and a half researching autism. The story creaks as sentimentality gives way to melodrama. The sympathetic portrayal of autism lacks enough empathy to sustain the drama and true depiction of the inability to deal with the world on its own unforgiving terms.
Nagy El-Aly brought two films to the evening: “Azmah Albyah (Heart Attack) and “Nihayat Don Juan (The End of a Don Juan), but only needed to have come with the first.
Based on a short story by Tawfiq El-Hakim, “Heart Attack critiques the authority that has been handed to television preachers by revealing the slippery ground on which the words are spoken. The panning camera and final shot reveal the naked reality of hypocrisy.
The second is an old story of infidelity with no sympathetic characters to which nothing new is added. The husband is a buffoon caught out by his carelessness. A layered flashback sequence at the end involving the secondary characters of the daughter and her boyfriend only add to the impression that this is a work of style without substance.
The two films present El-Aly as a competent filmmaker with the right tools but with little sense of sustaining a story beyond an idea.
The other two films on the program are throwbacks to the socially engaged literature of the 60s and 70s. Mohamed Hussein Rashed’s “Ugra! (Fare!) traces a taxi driver and his passenger through an absurdist journey in which they both gradually lose their individual personality, coming to symbolize polar ends of society and how they deal with each other – one tyrannically oppressive, the other meek and subservient.
Rashed trusts the audience’s intelligence and pushes the story into absurdity without cheap humor to ease the transition. In the Q&A session following the screenings, this trust was shown, by some of the literal interpretations of the audience, to require patience.
And no exploration of the Arab condition is complete without a bit of conflict and bloodshed. “El-Ziyarah Mamnouaah (The Visit is Forbidden) by Mohamed Kirarah depicts the common certainty of manmade disaster as one Arab country after another become unreachable for the protagonist.
News footage of the destruction and carnage visited upon the Palestinians somehow undermines the integrity of the drama, by undoing the atmosphere of repetition and inevitable frustration built up until that point, It makes it less of a personal yet common experience into another specific one experienced vicariously through the media.
More short films will be screened every Sunday of this month and September at Rawabet Theater, 8 pm.