A new film website with a focus on independent Egyptian and Arab cinema was launched this week, targeting filmmakers and film aficionados alike.
Terrso, which means third in Egyptian Arabic, is focused in particular on recent attempts by Egyptian filmmakers to break out of the binary of producing festival versus commercial films.
Aiming to inspire as well as add to the already existing interaction and discussions, the platform targets film students, filmmakers and film buffs alike, providing them with a large content, from the old articles about cinema to new critical writings about contemporary independent cinema movement in Egypt.
According to the new website, which launched on Thursday, the concept of "third" is linked to the cinemas whose audience comprised members of the working class, hence the idea of “third-class cinemas", a phrase used in Egyptian Arabic to describe some cinemas used by less well-off audiences.
Eventually, the word terso “came to be correlated with a local cinema directed towards [Egyptian] cinephiles,” reads the website.
“But with the arrival of the new millennium and the emergence of mall culture, going to the movies became more of a luxury, one that is restricted to the middle class, as well as students and intellectuals,” it reads.
“For years after, the few remaining run-down third-class movie theatres, some with a poor reputation, continued to screen a well-kept list of 'the best thrillers and violence-steeped films,' " reads the description. The situation was exacerbated by the audience itself, which now sought to get their film fix from the comfort of their couches.
It is against this backdrop that terr.so emerges, “especially at a time when we seem to be bombarded by binaries—between commercial cinema on one hand, and films embraced by the ‘festival movies’ on the other hand,” Mostafa Youssef, the founder of Terrso and an Egyptian filmmaker and co-founder of the Cairo-based film house Seen Films, told Ahram Online.
“We believe that this polarisation of thought—in other words, the black-and-white dualism—is wrong. And there’s been various attempts throughout the history of Egyptian cinema to transcend such polarisation,” Youssef said.
The polarisation, which emerged before the 2011 revolution, meant that “we either have a market that produces vapid films, or films dubbed ‘festival productions’ but without an audience.”
As Youssef puts it, in both cases, the blame is put on the audience. “On the one hand, filmmakers behind such high-quality films complain of 'the audience’s ignorance,' while commercial cinema producers claim that they produce such feeble films to match the audience’s taste.”
As a result, “a sense of estrangement ensues, with the justification given by both camps always centered on the audience and what it either “aspires for” or “lacks.”
What we’re then left with are “films that hardly correlate to reality,” he argued.
Terrso, Youssef explains, comes as “an endeavour to read into and comprehend the attempts of filmmakers who over the past years have been trying to suggest a third alternative, one that transcends this commercial cinema vs. festival cinema binary."
To do so, the website will especially focus on “contributions by members of this recent movement of documentary and independent cinema in Egypt, who produce cinema that is close to the [Egyptian] street and who are trying to locate a new audience, similar to the one we currently find in Zawya [independent cinema] and other similar venues, in the process.”
Besides Youssef, Terrso’s team comprises translator, blogger and film programmer Mohamed Fathy Kalfat (editor); designer, researcher and producer Mansour Aziz (art director) and visual artist Donia Shahdy (photo and media design).
On one level, Terrso will act as a knowledge reservoir comprising Arabic translations of articles dating back to the 1950s and 60s and centred on the history of cinema, especially because “young filmmakers face a problem when it comes to retrieving this content.”
As well as translating and re-publishing these pieces, the site will add footnotes relevant to the currents tate of cinema, and make the original version of those articles available in PDF format.
“It’s as if we’re renegotiating our relationship with this hardly accessible knowledge resource,” explains Youssef.
Terrso will also publish critical readings of contemporary Arab and Egyptian films, especially focusing on independent and documentary cinema.
“Many important discussions on cinema and the new movement have been taking place within the confines of cinema clubs, at special screenings and within closed circles, but are not in any way documented beyond their oral/verbal form,” said Youssef.
Terrso will attempt to document such conversations, and to make them available through an accessible medium.
“We will also try and encourage the public to interact with our content and to write their comments,” Youssef adds.
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