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Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Cimatheque: A new space to explore alternative cinema in Egypt

Long-awaited Cimatheque Alternative Film Centre's venue is finally opening, with plans to include the audience's expectations and suggestions when formulating its activities

Nourhan Tewfik, Tuesday 2 Jun 2015
Tawfik Saleh
Still frame from Tawfik Saleh's The Dupes (1972). Screening will inaugurate the Cimatheque's activities on 3 June
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A new cultural venue focusing on independent film is due to launch a series of experimental programmes starting 4 June, in what founders described as a “pre-opening stage.”

“We’ve been trying to prepare the place for a long time now for it to function as a platform that helps those interested in making alternative cinema improve their qualifications and acquire new skills,” said Tamer El-Said, a filmmaker and a co-founder of Cimatheque Alternative Film Centre, which is based in Cairo. 

"When the place begins hosting activities, and people start to frequent it, we will be able to understand how this completion can come about,” he added, underlining that the final shaping of the initiative will take into account feedback and suggestions from their audiences.

Among the programmes planned for the initial experimental phase is the Revisiting Memory programme, born out of the archives that Cimatheque’s team have collected over the last two years.

The programme will be inaugurated with a special screening of Tawfik Saleh's The Dupes (1972) on Wednesday 3 June. The film is based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun, and follows Palestinian refugees in an attempt to cross the desert to Kuwait. The film was produced with archival footage, and offers a critique of the era’s ideologies and the corruption of Arab regimes.

Revisiting Memory will run until 17 June and includes film screenings, exhibitions and workshops. It will show films by other notable filmmakers, including Atteyat El-Abnoudy, Hossam Ali, Tahani Rachid, Said Marzouk, and animators Ali and Hossam Moheib.

Cimatheque’s archival collective includes material from commercial Egyptian cinema, advertisements, as well as amateur footage, home videos and independent films, and even unedited newsreels and documentaries.

“The programme mainly focuses on this idea of the cinema archive and its different uses. It tries to raise discussions around the idea of the archive; how do we employ it and how an archive’s value is in how it should be put to use,” El-Said said.

In parallel with the programme, Cimatheque will also host an exhibition by artist and curator Ala Younis and visual artist Rana El-Nemr, which, according to the event's Facebook page, is “centred around film archives and the various questions to which they give voice.”

Among the first activities of Cimatheque will be a graphic design workshop – scheduled to take place from 14-16 June – focused on visuals from the archives.

According to El-Said, Cimatheque is also working on Alexandria-based Wekalet Behna’s archive, an art space centred around the audio-visual arts events. The space was once the office of Behna Films Selections, one of Egypt's largest cinema distribution companies between the 1930s and 1950s, and hosts a substantial archive of Egypt's cinematic history.

Another programme is that of NAAS@CIMATHEQUE Arab Arthouse Cinema Workshop, which will take place from 4-8 June.

“This workshop will host discussions around the status of independent films’ distribution in the Arab world, which usually aren’t well-distributed or seen enough across the region, whether we're speaking about art house films, documentaries or short fictions,” explained El-Said.

As part of the NAAS@CIMATHEQUE workshop, an evening of rare films from the British Film Institute (BFI) Archive titled "Scenes From Another Century" is scheduled to screen at Zawya. The screening is with the support of the British Council in Egypt. 

“This special screening will include archival material from Egypt and the Arab world that dates back to the early 20th century; and is being screened for the first time in Egypt. Accompanying it will be live music by the band Procession Towards the Unknown,” El-Said said.  

Curated by Robin Baker, head curator of the BFI National Archive, the event will include rare silent films from 1905-15 shot in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Palestine and Sudan, and according to the Facebook page announcement, it “encounter(s) Arabic language propaganda commissioned by the British in the 40s and 60s to influence the region, and get(s) a surprisingly intimate insight into the London of the last century.”

“We believe that this experimental phase will continue throughout the summer, so that by the beginning of autumn season, the place will have acquired its working pace,” El-Said concluded. 

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