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Cairo's French Institute celebrates magic of animation in a struggling industry

A large selection of Egyptian and French animated short films were screened on 20 and 21 October as part of Journées Animées. Screenings were followed by Q&A sessions with the films' creators

Menna Taher, Saturday 24 Oct 2015
She Looks Like a Cat
(Photo: Still from She Looks Like a Cat)
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When Egyptian animators graduate, they are always faced with the dilemma of what to do in a country with almost no industry in the field. Mostly they turn to advertising or other relatively unrelated fields. 

Sentiments on such dilemmas were shared among the young animators who had their student projects screened at the Journées Animées, a festival for French animated film at the French Institute in Cairo, held from 19-22 October.

Egyptian and French animated short films were screened on 20 and 21 October, followed by a Q&A with the Egyptian animators.

The shorts were varied in tone and technique, from the minimal to the cartoonish. There was also huge disparity between the animated films, with some of very high quality and others that felt more like educational experiments. However, the good ones were worth the watch. It is a shame to watch such films, knowing such great talent is being wasted.

The most notable of the Egyptian films during the event is the animated film Beginnings by Hadeel Hassan. Made with a bigger team than the other graduation projects, the film is highly poetic, capturing a fantastical story under the sea where glowing jellyfish are the centre of attention. It manages to capture a lyrical and slow mood. Produced by Termiss Productions, the film was supported by the Ministry of Culture and The British Council.

Other notable efforts include Chasing Memories by Hend Esmat, a monochromic, quiet film about a man following a rare fish that brings to him old memories. The film was her graduation project from the German University in Cairo (GUC). It was drawn in charcoal and combined analog and digital techniques.

Zlezla
(Photo: still from Zlezla)

Laaeb Al-Nard (The Player of the Dice) by Nesma Sabry and Luk Luk by Nada Moheeb were also distinctive efforts.

Sabry’s film, based on the poem of the same name by Mahmoud Darwish, is a very interesting and playful experiment. Incorporating Arabic calligraphy and playing with the shapes of the ink to create a character and accompanying images, the poem is brought to life. The film was also made as a graduation project for GUC.

“I tried to choose images and the level of motion relative to the highs and lows of the rhythm of the poem,” Sabry commented during the Q&A after the screening.

Nada Moheeb’s Luk Luk, made at the Higher Institute of Cinema, is a simple and funny pencil animation. Minimalist in its technique, it still has a distinctive style. The film sheds light on the extent of malicious gossip in the classroom. The beauty of it is how such a simple moment in a classroom could be turned into an interesting story when told visually with well-designed characters.

Moheeb also screened another short about sexual harassment and women’s empowerment, titled Kharbesh.

Other interesting efforts include She Looks Like a Cat by Hadya Mahmoud, about a woman that resembles her cat, and Zlezla by Sharif Sharif, an interesting experiment that mixes Grimm’s Tales with Egyptian folklore, made using the drawings and voices of children.

Beginnings
(Photo: Still from Beginnings)

Dynamics of the field: challenges and hopes

Many of the animators whose works were screened agreed that in order to make something worthwhile, animators have to collaborate. Most Egyptian animators either work alone or leave the field altogether.

“There are some channels on the internet, like Egytoon, but other than some of these online platforms there is not enough,” said Sabry.

“The problem with the industry here is that many of the people working in the field are not animators, but software developers, and do not have a background in animation. In the end, they produce something like Mat Nam, which was on around two Ramadans ago.”

Nada Elissa, who co-curated the festival with Yomna Osman, told Ahram Online that encouraging animators in Egypt is the main purpose of the event. 

“The situation for animation in Egypt is sadly not so great,” said Elissa, “I wish more would come out, and that young animators would work together and encourage each other to make something different.”

She emphasised that there is a lot of potential in Egypt and that it is a shame that they have to leave the country to make careers in the field abroad.

“We have great, creative animators, but as always the problem is the industry, and even the audience,” said Elissa. “I hope events like this one would change the situation.”

Passionate about animation herself, Elissa, along with her co-curator, chose each film with care. Although this is the first edition of Journées Animées, Elissa had previously curated the animation weekend at Zawya, the Cairo-based independent film initiative.

Chasing Memories
(Photo: Still from Chasing Memories)

Elissa has always loved French animated film, especially 2D animation, which she thinks French artists are mastering.

“Their stories are also always different and unexpected,” she told Ahram Online.

She also cited her love for Japan’s Studio Ghibli and confesses that if they weren’t restrained to only choosing French films she would have also included Tomm Moore’s The Song of the Sea among the selection.

The selection of the festival’s feature films was interesting. The opening film, Jack et la Mechanique du Cœur (Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart), is both gloomy and enchanting, with a Tim Burtonish feel to it. Its incorporation of several animation techniques was a good way to start a festival that includes a diverse range of films.

The reason they chose the film was simple enough: “The film is magical,” Elissa said.

The film also pays tribute to the French illusionist and filmmaker Georges Méliès, who is considered a pioneer in many special effects techniques and is always attributed when the magic of cinema is discussed. Having this tribute in the festival’s opening film was an apt way to celebrate cinema as well as its magical counterpart, animation.

The selection also included Le chat du Rabin (The Rabbi’s Cat), set in 1920s Algeria, which the curators chose as a French classic feature.

The festival concluded with the sci-fi animated film, La Planète Sauvage (Fantastic Planet), an eerie piece set on a planet in which giants live and humans are treated as pets. It taps into many political themes and closed the event on a less magical, more melancholic note.

One left the theatre with the film’s hypnotic soundtrack repeating in the head, while accompanied by the gnawing thought that something should be done so the talent of the young Egyptian animators does not go to waste.
 

LUK LUK from Nada Moheeb on Vimeo.

 

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