The following is a live-blog post of the documentary shorts screening, “First-Person Films: Student Documentaries from Egypt”, sponsored by The American University in Cairo and the International Center for Journalists, hosted in New York City’s Tribeca Grand Hotel.
Six films were shown: The Art of Mandur (Fan Mandur), Kasr El Masr: Palace of Critical Care, A Life on the Nile , Away from Home, Lokmet Eish (Making a Living), The No Choice (about blogger Alaa Abd el Fatah) and Resonance (the story of a determined Oud player).
10:00 Craig is the last to leave
One sure side-effect of live blogging is head swim. That being said, if I collect my thoughts for just a minute, I see that we just spent the evening witnessing the power of video storytelling. Guests talked about the foot ironer, the sailor, the Iraqi mother as if they understood on a deeply personal level what their lives are like. There was some undertone of joy at having the opportunity to learn about people half a world away.
One other result of an evening well spent–exhaustion. I’m grateful to Craig for taking a few more minutes to tell me his thoughts on how the screening went, and some of what he took away from his time in Cairo:
9:30 The Room Clears
Just a few guests are left…I jumped into the middle of one conversation to have a few words with our visiting film maker and any guests still willing to talk:
8:30 After Party
Where does the time go when you’re munching nuts and cheese? Guests aren’t eager to brave the cold quite yet. They’d rather chat, and they are all enthusiastic about the films they saw.
7:45 the Q & A
My computer and I had to part ways for this portion of the evening…it’s a mic thing. There were plenty of questions (though none for me to relay from any comments! Too bad.) Overall, it was clear the audience connected with many of the characters in the film. Their questions were about how the people are now, where they are, if they have rebuilt relationships we were concerned about, etc. And of course, some genuine amazement at the ER scenes, to which Craig said most Egyptians would not be so surprised by what they saw if the film were to make it on television.
I’m off to interview guests!
Mustafa Said Mohamed Anta is portrayed with determination from a young age, when he defies his father to learn to play the Oud. A great moment is when his ire is raised by a young student of his who doubts he’ll be able to apply to music school.
Clearly he wants to bring his country into the new century and embrace what is beautiful about the music that is in his soul. He says, “If there was no hope, I’d be composing commercial music”
7:20 Just Blog NO?
Not for the blogger-activist Alaa Abd el Fatah and his family. It took me a while to grasp the meaning behind this story. This isn’t about blogging an opinion and getting into trouble with the law, this is a life choice that a man and woman (Alaa’s parents) made even before all their children were born.
They raised their family to step into the fray, add their bodies to the count, stand up and be heard. They attend demonstrations together like we might go to the movies–or that’s how it was before things became really violent. Now they know what it’s like to be beat, sit in jail, and petition for friends. There is not family time that isn’t political time. It’s their life choice, and their courage comes through loud & clear.
7:00 If only my grandmother had known: FOOT IRONING?
Yes, he (note: it’s a MAN’S job) curls his toes to hold the iron. Even better: who needs that little iron sprayer we have when you can just spray water over a garment with your MOUTH? I like the music Farah El Alfy, Haidy Ammar and Habiba Yussr chose to keep this light and fun.
The foot ironer feels this is his destiny, all he knows, and it paid to educate his children. He walks with a crooked back and a proud heart….but I’m not sure I should regret my wash & wear clothes.
6:55 Iraqi Mothers
One image of this Iraqi refugee family stopped me short: the little girl thumbing a newspaper with images of war in her home country. Her sadness becomes ours in the short film, as we see her hugged repeatedly by her mother. Mother Om Olma is determined to keep her family together, happy and forward looking despite tears when she misses her own mother.
While we watch her children kick a ball in the yard, Om Olma tells us if everything is taken away from her but security, she will still be happy. That is a lot for us Americans to ponder.
6:50 Boat with a View
A boatman tries to make a living & talks about the hassles of government that slow him down & can result in an immediate/arbitrary change of career if he gets the answers wrong. I feel for him, and long for a chance to catch the vision captured in those great shots.
6:40 Everybody’s ER
Chaos seems to reign in this hospital–and yes, the film maker deserves kudos for this access! Anger, tears and desperation (both of patients and doctors) is palpable. Families swarm in on doctors & slow the process…administrators resort to harsh words to maintain order. The basement scene at the end makes everything at first seem hopeless, but the speaker says “There is no worker like the Egyptian worker,” turning the story upwards with determination and hope.
6:30 Potter & Son
A touching story, told so quickly, about two potters, father & son. The younger tries to find his own artistic path and keep his bond with his father, the older feels so strongly about keeping the craft a tradition after working so hard to become what he is now. Timeless and universal.
6:15 small weather delay!
A little snow stuck and slowed down our trains, but that didn’t keep guests away, just a little late. We’re just starting now after brief remarks. Here are photos to keep you busy while I watch:
Alaa & Craig
Alaa Al Dajani, Craig Duff, David Irons & Elisa Tinsley