INTERVIEW: Cinematology, Egypt's new film appreciation platform

Menna Taher, Wednesday 26 Aug 2015

Ahram Online talks to Mohamed Abou Soliman, founder of the Cinematology Facebook page, a platform that provides an alternative look at Egyptian and international cinema and filmmakers through video essays

Cinematology logo (Photo: Cinematology facebook page)

In the hope of reviving the great works of Egyptian cinema and encouraging people to appreciate the intricate details of filmmaking, Mohamed Abou Soliman (known also as Mo Soliman), created the Facebook page Cinematology.

He describes his page as a film appreciation video series.

Set up in June, Cinematology publishes videos tackling different topics, like frame composition, visual motifs and the cinema of youth. Soliman believes there should be less politics and more culture, and this is evident in his quest to make cinema more accessible and more understandable to people.

Soliman started his career as an engineer in the oil services company Schlumberger, but always knew he was passionate about cinema. After four years of work he quit his job to study cinema in Canada. Since graduating, Soliman has produced and directed short films, documentaries, commercials and television programmes.

His short film Geeb El Deeb Men Deilo (Grab a Wolf by Its Tail), which was in the official selection of Alexandria Film Festival, tackles sexual harassment and how it should be dealt with.

His 2015 short Under A Glass Moon — a film which was selected in the Cannes Short Film Corner — although quite different in style and tone from Grab a Wolf by Its Tale, still maintains a similar theme of revenge against sexual predators.

Ahram Online (AO): What encouraged you to start making the Cinematology video series? Do you have a plan for the topics ahead, or do you come up with the topics with each new video?

Mohamed Abu Soliman (Mo): It all comes down to my love for cinema and wanting to share that with as many people as possible.

In film school, I had a professor who would make us watch a film, which would normally last for an hour and a half, yet we'd watch it in four hours. We'd pause all the time and break down scenes and shots and analyze camera movements. It was the most educational class I ever had.

You can learn more from watching and analyzing films than you could from a hundred books on cinema. It's visual literacy. The format that I use in my videos is called a video essay and it's becoming a very popular format in North America, but has never been applied in the Arab world. And we have a tremendous cinematic history with incredible films and great directors, all very inspiring to study. Cinema has been a cornerstone of our culture and I hope to revive that.

I don't have a set plan for the topics. It's whatever inspires me in the moment. It could be a director, a film, an actor or just a scene.

AO: The videos are very well made, and are very interesting. How long does it take to make a video?

Mo: I approach each video as a short film. So there's a structure to it. It starts with a general idea, followed by a lot of research and collecting footage. I then write a first draft for the narration and edit the footage together. Then there's always a second draft where I fine tune the edit and adjust the script for pace, coherence, etc. Finally, I create the final draft after I add the music, the titles and package the whole piece together. So it takes time. A lot of time.

AO: Seeing that many people encourage you to make the videos in the comments, are you planning to make them more frequently?

Mo: I would love to and hope to do so. The thing is, because each video takes a lot of effort and time and I have a busy schedule working on other projects, their frequency is one every three to four weeks. The quality and content of each video is very important and I wouldn't want to sacrifice that for quantity, but I'm working on releasing more soon.

AO: Do you plan to expand Cinematology in the future? Make a website, for instance?

Mo: I hope so. I'm exploring possible options.

AO: I especially loved your last video about ‘Tharthara fawq Al-Nile.’ It’s been a while since I’ve watched it and your video made me want to watch it again, with this new outlook. I always thought it’s a visually great film but I didn’t know specifically why. I liked how you broke down the scenes. Do you think great directors are the ones that use these cinematic tools and emit the effect they want without getting the audience to notice why exactly those scenes work?

Mo: I think there are two schools of thought. Some directors make you conscious of their style and camera movements, like Godard, Tarantino and Scorsese, and some are more subtle, like Kurosawa, Kubrick and Bergman. I personally like them all. That's what is so nice and freeing about cinema: the means of expression are limitless.

AO: Do you think there are cinematic movements in Egyptian cinema or just great works made sporadically by individuals without there being what you would call a movement?

Mo: Well, Egyptian cinema kind of went through movements, like melodrama, musicals, realism, social films, and "Aflam El-Shabab" (youth cinema). But I like to view the works of directors I admire, regardless of their period.

AO: What do you think about current Egyptian independent cinema? Do you think there’s experimentation in form? Could you name examples, if you consider there are films of the sort?

Mo: It'll be hard to name some, so as not to forget others but one thing's for sure: there's so much talent in Egypt.

AO: What types of cinema movements are most interesting to you?

Mo: I go through phases based on directors. For example I'll go into a Fellini binge, watching every film he made, then I'll go into a Luis Buñuel binge, then a David Lynch binge. The same goes for Egyptian cinema. Chahine, then Kamal El-Sheikh, and so on.

AO: Will you also make videos about international cinema?

Mo: Yes, that's the plan.

AO: There seems to be efforts like Zawya to make alternative cinema more available to the public. However, I’ve noticed that it’s always the same people that attend and show interest. Also, the friends on my list that like your page are the ones related to cinema in one way or another, or are those with more intellectual interests. How do you think that could be changed?

Mo: I thought that was the case too, but I was pleasantly surprised to realise that it's not so. So many, I'd say the majority of those who follow the videos, are not cinephiles at all. I've received countless messages from people saying that the series has made them see cinema in a whole new light and they enjoy movies more now. That made me very happy. People in Egypt are ready and want to view programming that respects their intelligence and strengthens their cultural identity and artistic knowledge. I hope those responsible for media in Egypt start realising that.

AO: Are there other online cinema educational platforms that you would recommend?

Mo: I like the Cinephiles channel on Vimeo. There is also the interesting website No Film School. 

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