Cinema el Fourn: Old Cairo, New Talent

This past weekend saw the inauguration of Cinema el Fourn, an open-air screening area set up at Darb 1718, a contemporary art and culture center in the Fakhareen neighborhood of Old Cairo. Taking its name from the fact that its “screen” is in reality a large white wall shared with the adjacent fourn, or brick-oven bakery, the cinema will be dedicated to screening the works of young independent Egyptian filmmakers, as well as those of their foreign contemporaries. To celebrate its opening, Cinema el Fourn ran a three day long festival, screening a total of 18 short films and documentaries.

The idea for a legitimate, permanent screening venue dedicated to local independent filmmakers is one that has been long overdue; a fact evident in Cinema el Fourn’s creation— at roughly the same time, two separate individuals approached artist and owner of Darb 1718, Moataz Nasr with ideas similar enough that the artist felt obliged to introduce them to each other. Bahaa Talis, 32, and Mariam Makhoul, 29, soon found themselves working together.

“We wanted to create a Mecca for independent filmmakers,” says Talis. “A place where they could discuss films and hold unique screenings.” For Talis, Cinema el Fourn is the latest in a series of similar successful projects. Having organized Port Said’s first ever short film festival five years ago, he then shifted his focus to Avignon, France, creating a festival for Egyptian films, which in subsequent years has expanded to include Mediterranean cinema. As has been the case with his previous endeavors, Talis hopes that Cinema el Fourn will also be a success, inspiring filmmakers and enthusiasts alike. “Our aim is to raise awareness on the potential of both short documentaries and short films, as separate mediums, and to discuss both formats in an intelligent kind of way,” says Talis. “We want the films shown here to reflect that, to show audiences and other young filmmakers that there’s a “box” and to encourage them to think outside of it.” 

If all goes according to plan, Cinema el Fourn will also function as an archive, creating a catalog of independent films that could potentially make their way to film festivals around the world. “There are a lot of good independent films in Egypt,” says Makhoul, who had already been working as Darb 1718’s production operations manager for the past year before being introduced to Talis by Nasr. “People don’t seem to know that, so we’re trying to spread the word. We have connections with several international film festivals, and we want to give these films a chance to gain some recognition, and maybe even win awards. In short, we want to give hope to all independent filmmakers.”  

On its first night, Cinema el Fourn screened several short films from the Mediterranean region, while the following two nights focused on short Egyptian documentaries and short Egyptian films, respectively. Despite a late start and some minor setbacks—there were some initial problems with the sound, followed by the cancellation of one of the post-screening discussions due to the moderator being sick—the opening festival was a success, benefiting from an intimate and relaxing garden setting, complete with beanbag chairs, blankets, and hot drinks. The three-day program also included a number of interesting films, with standouts such as Karim Fanous’s beautifully shot “Dirty Hands, Clean Soap”, and “Ramses the Car”, an enormously entertaining documentary by Rami Abdul Jabbar.

Among the festival’s guests was noted film critic and Egypt Today columnist Sherif Awad, who also served as a moderator for the first day’s discussion. “This is a promising new place and a promising idea,” says Awad in regards to both Darb 1718 and its new cinema. “We need to expose people to a different kind of filmmaking than what they get from cable television and mainstream cinema. We need to expand our knowledge of the different ways of artistic expression. In Egypt, the concept of independent cinema isn’t as established as it is in the States. The whole notion of ‘underground’, of things not being mainstream is still new to us, and we have to work to change that,” says Awad, before adding. “[Ideas] like this are a good start.”

At the end of its three-day opening festival, there is a sense of accomplishment amongst the visibly exhausted organizers. “I would have liked more people to come,” sighs Ghada Kabesh, Darb’s public relations and communication manager, as she balances Max, a shivering two-week old puppy on her knee. “But I think considering the cold weather it’s been good.” With its first event having gone (relatively) smoothly, Cinema el Fourn is now officially up and running. Whether or not it becomes the independent filmmakers’ Mecca that Bahaa Talis dreams of remains to be seen.

“I’m happy with the way things have gone,” Talis nods, smiling. “We’ve planted a seed, and I’m excited to see what happens next.”

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