A new documentary by Australian filmmaker Kim Beamish shines a light on Al-Khiamiah, a street in Downtown Cairo filled with all types of textiles. Al-Khiamiah, or ‘tentmakers’, specialises in the type of fabric from which traditional tents are made.
On the website, Beamish describes how he became interested in the project: “On only my third day in Cairo I stood on 26th July Street, waiting for a woman I had met once before a week ago in a cafe at the Australian National University in Canberra. Jenny Bowker, who I would later find out, is a big name in the quilting world and an even bigger name on the street of the tentmakers, was taking me to meet the tentmakers of Cairo.”
Jenny Bowker is married to former Australian Ambassador to Egypt, Robert Bowker. When he was assigned to Egypt, she discovered Al-Khiamiah and the people who work there. She is a master seamstress and quilt-maker and became fascinated by the products sold in Al-Khiamiah, and was able to secure the craftsmen contracts with textile companies abroad. She facilitated contracts between companies and 18 shops in the street, allowing them to export 2,500-3,000 pieces per year.
Through Bowker, Beamish was introduced to Hossam Farouk, who owns the Al-Farouk shop in Al-Khiamiah with his brother. Along with one of Al-Farouk’s employees, Ahmed Kamal, they became Beamish’s contacts in Al-Khiamiah and the main focus of the film.
“The film is a chance to advertise the work we are doing,” said Kamal. “It also boosts the morale of people in Al-Khiamiah and gives the children role models, which is very important.”
The film and Bowker’s efforts have been a huge help to the shops of Al-Khiamiah, especially after the decline of tourism in Egypt, on which the shops rely for most of their earnings. Their new ties also allowed them to go to several textile exhibitions abroad and they will be participating in the Art in Action exhibition in the United Kingdom this July. In addition, they will be participating in a special exhibition in Michigan called Stitch Like an Egyptian in August.
Beamish is very excited about the project, which is still in progress. “I want to tell a real Egyptian story with real people, one that tells the story of a unique form of artwork,” Beamish said. The shooting of the film will continue until August, followed by six months of editing. Beamish hopes to screen the film in several top-tier festivals around the world.