This time last year, Egypt was in a state of celebration. Seemingly free from the shackles of the Hosni Mubarak regime, Egyptians danced in the naivety of the reverberating chant, “the people and the army are one hand.” Shortly afterwards, Egypt witnessed an outpour of artistic energy and cultural activity manifested in an abysmal display of reactive, superficial, narrow-sighted works of an incomplete revolution.
One year later, the ongoing political turbulence, the lack of national security and the increase of religious fundamentalism have caused a domino effect of devastating events, following the death of 71 people in the Port Said football riot earlier this month. The Egyptian Premier League has gone on hiatus, the Cairo Opera House has postponed all activities for the month of February and Egypt’s beloved comedic actor, Adel Imam, was charged with defaming religion; leaving many to wonder, is Egypt facing a cultural apocalypse?
Thankfully, most cultural institutions, like El-Sawy Culture Wheel, realize the importance of art, reminding us of the old adage, “the show must go on.”
This past week, the 9th Sawy Festival for Independent Short Narratives provided local filmmakers and fans with three days of uninterrupted short films packed with socio-political commentary, optimism and a surprising line-up of dark comedies.
Sally Selim, general coordinator for Sawy’s film and event programs, told Daily News Egypt, “Following the tragic Port Said incident, Sawy closed its doors for several days to mourn the many lives lost and to pay respect to their families. While other institutions have remained closed, we felt it was important to reopen and continue with the festival. We have a duty to provide art and platforms for artists in order to continue cultural development within the country.”
Under the curatorship of the famed director of photography, Dr. Said El-Shimi, 44 films were selected out of 100 submissions. “Now in its ninth year, the festival has seen vast improvements in the caliber of submissions,” Selim said. “This year, we tried to curate an even-versed selection of revolution movies and non-revolution related ones.”
In Romany Saad Adly’s, “Cold January,” a poor mother struggles to keep her children warm and fed after their dead-beat father leaves them, selling everything in the house, including their front door. In order to fight the wind, the family uses a poster of Hosni Mubarak as a placeholder for the door but unfortunately, the cold air seeps through causing the children to innocently ask, “Why isn’t Hosni keeping us warm?”
Set during the 18-day uprising, the mother desperately tries to find work in order to buy the family a new door, eventually finding herself on Qasr El-Nil Bridge where a street vendor offers her a job selling Egyptian flags. Hence, the family begins successfully selling flags to protesters on their way to Tahrir and an overt nationalist tone overwhelms the film.
Just as the family begins making enough money to rebuild their home, Adly cuts to Omar Suleiman’s speech announcing the departure of Hosni Mubarak. Sullenly, the family takes this to mean that the movement is over and people will stop buying flags, leaving the family in their original state of despair. As the film closes, another protester stops to buy a flag and comforts the family by telling them, “This is not the end. We have only just begun.”
Last year, “Cold January” received the Best Revolution Film Award at the Alexandria International Film Festival, and this past week, the film’s star, Emmy, won best actress in the Sawy Film Festival.
Unfortunately, “Cold January” was the only film directly tackling the revolution that was worth mentioning. Instead the recurring images of Tahrir and protests took a backseat to several films directly emphasizing the importance of child development in Egypt.
Taking home third place and a prize of LE 2,000, director Kerolos Talaat Amgad tells a tragic tale of a discarded child in his 11-minute film, “Kawalis” (Back Stage). The film opens with a young girl, about 10 years old, digging through a trashcan outside a schoolhouse. Following a train of kids walking into the school, the young girl sneaks in and finds herself backstage in the school’s theater watching a marionette performance.
Later that evening when she returns home, the young girl is taken by her father to the house of a stranger where she is sold to the family as a maid for the sum of LE 800. Every day, the young girl sneaks into the schoolhouse to watch the marionette performance. The more she watches, the more she realizes that she is no different than the marionette, and is simply a puppet on a string. The film climaxes with a dramatic and emotive scene when the young girl becomes the marionette, dancing on stage, her motion dictated by the invisible strings that bind her.
In “41 Days,” director Ahmed Abdel Aziz tells an endearing tale of a young boy named Youssef and his love for football. Following the funeral of his aunt, Youssef is forced to wait 40 days before being allowed to turn on the television to watch the World Cup. The film succeeded in using humor and a childlike perspective to question the negative effects of tradition on Egypt’s emerging youth.
Abdel Aziz won the second-place award for “41 Days” and was granted a prize of LE 3,000.
Taking home the first-place award and LE 4 000 was Ramon Boutros-Ghali’s 12-minute film, “Tamer Flew.” The black comedy opens with the protagonist, Tamer, checking into the hospital for a minor surgery. After being put under, Tamer’s dreams lead him to the desert where two men in black suits claiming to be angels confront him. In this modern-day judgment tale, Tamer is forced to look at his life in retrospect, questioning his actions and intentions through a series of comedic vignettes.
As the dream transforms into a nightmare, Tamer awakes to find himself still in the hospital bed. Shaking of the vision and its significance, Tamer checks out of the hospital and jumps into a taxi only to realize that his driver bares a striking resemblance to the black-suited angel in his dreams.
“In a world where so much is wrong and corrupt, I find it important to use my movies to set people on the right path,” Boutros-Ghali said, “to correct their wrongs and show them a new beginning. That’s the beauty of film; everything is in your control.”