AUC dims the lights for Cairo Documentary Festival, starting tonight

For a while, it seemed as if the whole world were watching as the Egyptian revolution unfolded, the majority no more than passive spectators. However, a considerable number of people, both locally and abroad, were more actively engaged, documenting the monumental events as they happened.

It may be a while before these efforts bear fruit; most of the documentaries are now in post-production, with a few still shooting. Until then, audiences interested in Egyptian history, culture, and the national circumstances that led up to an unprecedented revolt, would do well to attend the Cairo Documentary Festival, organized by and held at the American University in Cairo’s twin campuses.

Beginning today, the work screened at the Cairo Documentary Festival is divided between two programs. The first, titled Egypt Rising, will revolve around films depicting the current socio-economic situation across the nation, focusing equally on residents of chaotic capital Cairo and those of more remote villages and governorates.

The Egypt Rising program is further divided into six chapters, covering the festival’s week-long duration. Dawning Faces, which opens the program on Sunday night at AUC’s Downtown campus, will showcase the work of young, independent filmmakers, including “Stories from al-Fagalla”, “A Nomad’s Home”, and “Garbage Dreams”.

“I’m really happy the film is being screened at the festival,” says Mai Iskandar, director of the award-winning “Garbage Dreams”. Following the success of her film, Iskandar generously waived her distribution rights so that “Garbage Dreams” could be screened free of charge at educational institutions and environmental organizations.

“I think it’s important to show the recent issues and tragedies which the Egyptian people have been experiencing,” she says.

The Egypt Rising program continues on 24 March with its second chapter, Documentary Rising, which will feature nine short videos depicting the process of change that Egyptians are currently undergoing as they prepare themselves for a new era that most hope will be characterized by political transparency, civil responsibility, and ultimately, democracy.

Acclaimed documentarian Tahani Rached’s “Neighbors” is the sole film featured in the third chapter of Egypt Rising, called Remembering Tahrir Square. The film, shot over a year before the revolution, depicts the relationship between residents of the areas surrounding the iconic square.

Documenting Revolutionary Times, the fourth chapter of the program, will comprise a panel discussion between activists, scholars, and filmmakers, while Streaming the Revolution takes a look at, and analyzes, a series of short internet videos based on the events of the uprising.

Egypt Rising concludes with Expanding the Horizon, which will feature a screening of the first part of Emmanuelle Demoris’s 12-hour “Mafrouza” series, with the following installments to be shown at various locations around the country in the weeks after the festival.

Audiences with a broader interest on regional politics might find the Cairo Documentary Festival’s second program more appealing. Neighboring Nations expands the focus to countries that share similar conditions and histories, and a close geographical proximity.

Also split into chapters, Neighboring Nations begins on 21 March with Memories & Premonitions, which will feature several documentaries on life in Turkey’s Anatolia region. The following day’s chapter, Unexpected Stories, includes a series of experimental travel films from locations such as New York and India, among others.

Palestine is the main issue featured in the chapter State of Imprisonment, also scheduled to begin on 22 March, followed by the Cultural History of Sudan examining that nation’s architecture and personality traits characterizing its population. The focus then shifts to Iran for Neighboring Nations’ final chapter, with two documentaries, presented by noted film scholar, Dr. Hamid Naficy, on the country’s rising political awareness. The last two chapters will take place on 24 March.

Both Egypt Rising and Neighboring Nations will screen starting Sunday at AUC’s Downtown campus, with the closing awards ceremony scheduled to be held at the end of the week at the university’s New Cairo campus.

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