Egypt's arts and culture: The best of March 2014

Ahram Online, Tuesday 1 Apr 2014

Ahram Online highlights the artistic achievements, important cultural events and new initiatives that took place in Egypt in March

The Best of March 2014

Mohamed Khan's award-winning Factory Girl hits Egyptian cinemas

Factory Girl represents not only a high artistic achievement for the cast and crew but also for its director, Mohamed Khan. It was released in Egyptian cinemas on 19 March and has received positive reviews from critics and audiences.

The film made its world debut in December at the Dubai International Film Festival, one of the most highly anticipated film events in the region. Nine Egyptian films were screened. However, it was Khan's film that made the biggest splash, picking up two awards – the Muhr Arab Feature Best Actress Award, handed out to Factory Girl's star, Yasmine Raess, as well as the coveted FEPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) Best Arab Feature award.

Factory Girl was written by Khan's wife, Wessam Soliman, and produced by film editor Mohamed Samir. 

The film tells the story of one year in the life of Hiyam (played by Yasmine Raees), a young woman working in a clothing factory who falls in love with her supervisor. At the heart of the tale is a bigger issue, though: women who search for independence while being caught in the throes of a repressive society. The film also pays homage to Egyptian actress Soad Hosny.

Factory Girl
Still shot from Mohamed Khan's Factory Girl

The 8th Art Dubai sees strong participation from Egyptian artists

The 2014 edition of Art Dubai, hosted between 19 and 22 March in Madinet Jumeirah, showcased more than 500 artists, 70 galleries and several projects.

For the first time this year, Art Dubai opened a hall dedicated to modern art, dubbed 'Art Dubai Modern', from the Middle East and South Asia. Galleries from various cities gave audiences a sample of twentieth century art from the region.

Among the galleries participating was Egypt's Karim Francis Gallery, showcasing works by Adam Henein (1929) and Hamed Abdalla (1917-1985). Henein was present at the event, giving viewers a chance to speak to him about his work and the Art Dubai Modern initiative as a whole.

Egyptian artist Bassim Magdy exhibited his Abraaj Group Art Prize-winning film 'The Dent' at an exhibition dedicated to the prize winners.

The prize awards artists on the basis of written proposals, as opposed to finished artworks. The prize money is then used by the artists to realise their projects without budget constraints.

Basim Magdy is the fourth Egyptian to win the prize. He succeeds Iman Issa (2013), Wael Shawky (2012) and Hala Elkoussy (2011).

Adel Henein
Egyptian artist Adam Henein in front of Karim Francis Gallery showcase in Art Dubai (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Zawya brings alternative films to downtown Cairo

In a city like Cairo, where cinemas only screen Hollywood blockbusters or commercially produced Egyptian films, one could only catch an alternative film from Egypt or other corners of the world at rare selected screenings. This month, Misr International Films - Youssef Chahine, the same company hosting the annual Panorama of the European Film, set out to take the first steps in changing that by opening Zawya, Cairo's first arthouse cinema.

Opening on 12 March at Odeon Cinema, Zawya screened award-winning Saudi film Wadjda. It has also screened The Past by Asghar Farhadi. Zawya has also been hosting several of this year's Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival's (D-CAF) film programme in the evenings.

The cinema will be screening local independent productions as well as international classics. Besides regular film screenings, Zawya plans to host talks, special events, retrospectives, film discussions and master classes.

While Zawya is starting with only one screen in Odeon Cinema as a pilot, MIF hopes to spread the initiative to other screens in the capital, and other cities in Egypt.

Crowds gather at Zawya opening event (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Wekalet Behna opens in Alexandria for independent film, visual arts and archiving Egypt's cinematic heritage

Friday 14 March saw the official opening of Wekalet Behna, an art space focused on audio-visual arts, adding a new much-needed space to Alexandria's independent arts scene.

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 the county’s cinematic history, selections of which will be exhibited at the venue.

Wekalet Behna - an initiative by Gudran for Arts and Development along with Behna Films Selections heir Basile Behna - will also serve as a workshop, production, and exhibition space for independent cinema, video, and visual art in Egypt's second-largest city.

The first of a series of events hosted three exhibitions by three generations of artists: Ali Ashour presented a painting exhibition featuring never-exhibited works from the start of his career, Amr El-Sawah presented experimental photography, and Yara Mekkawi showcased a video art project.

The event also featured a film screening of Onshoudet El-Fouad, one of the first spoken films in the region, which was recovered by Basile Behna and his sister, Marie-Claude, the heirs to the Behna legacy and the owners of the new art space.

Throughout March until 10 April, Wekalet Behna is hosting several events, including film screenings, audio-visual experimental performances and talks.

Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children

Between 12 and 18 March, Cairo saw a unique artistic event: Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children. The festival brought theatre performances to the Hanager Theatre on the Cairo Opera House grounds. This annual event is organised by AFCA for Arts and Culture, an institution founded by Mohamed El-Ghawy in 2004 with a simple yet powerful mission: to educate children and young people about art and culture in Egypt.

The Hakawy (or “Stories”) Festival is about telling stories to children through a variety of performing tools. This year, the festival brought theatre performances from the US, UK, France, Netherlands, Germany and Egypt, with stories told through movement and dance.

Varying in theatrical tools of storytelling, each performance offered a unique experience. Young viewers were transported from circus tricks (the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School from Egypt), life-size puppets, games and imaginary shapes (Frogz from the USA), to the contemporary dance (Madcap from the Netherlands), games with food (Yummm! from the UK), and experiments with paint (Uccellini from France), among others.

For the festival organisers, the child is a partner they take on a journey – entertaining and thought-provoking by turns – through the wonders of theatre, the stories it tells, the life it mirrors and the lessons it teaches. Each performance is a small experience, while the whole festival is a process that will eventually shape the viewers and develop a theatrical culture to be assimilated by young and old alike.

Read more about the festival here and check the photo gallery here.

Young audience of the Hakawy Festival (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

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