Documentary 101

Last night marked the end of Al Sakia’s sixth documentary film festival. Among those in attendance were Mohamed el-Sawi, the founder of Al Sakia, and Adel Sherif, the head of the Aroma Company, which co-partnered the event. Also present was a panel consisting of directors Nabiha Lotfy and Saad Hendawy, and director of photography Gamal el-Boushi.

The prize for the best long documentary went to Banina el-Sad (We built the Dam). Directed by Mahmoud Adawi, it tells the story of the construction of Egypt’s high dam and the workers who built it. The jury’s award went to Rasael el-Hekma(Messages of Wisdom), directed by Tamer Hanafi. Rasael el-Hekmatraces the tangled history of the Al Dorouz Muslims of Palestine and Syria.

As for the short documentaries, the award for best film went to Happy Birthday Loa,directed by Riham Ibrahim, which portrays the life of a Palestinian child who lost an eye during the 2008 bombing of Gaza. The jury’s award for short documentary went to Tawasol (Communication), directed by Maged Nader. A certificate of honor was given to a documentary about the beauty of Egypt’s desert, Remal Masria(Egyptian Sand), directed by Ayman Hussein.

The films participating in this year’s festival were very straightforward, approaching their subjects like a television news report. Compared to Egyptian documentaries of the past, which depict the human aspect of their subjects, this year’s films favored cold fact over emotion, and tended to alienate rather than engage their audience.

Even when depicting unique and interesting topics, most films failed to hold interest to the end. Symposium Aswan, a film chronicling the Egyptian workers responsible for cutting stones for the famous sculptures, felt more like a social marketing campaign. Between the prolonged scenes, the emphasis on the role of the Ministry of Culture, and the mini interview with the Symposium’s creator, the film lost its focus.

Another promising film that failed to deliver was about the Egyptian intellectual, Gamal Hemdan. It opens intriguingly, by questioning the circumstances of his death, but loses momentum when the director begins focusing on Hemdan’s biography and well-known scientific achievements, rather than his personal life.

Documentaries should be about capturing the glamor of ordinary life and giving the human side of the stories. Films like El Banat Dool,(Girls as Such) and Giran (Neighbors) from director Tahani Rashid, Ramsis the Car by Rami Abdel Jabbar, Aswat (Voices) by Dina Hamza, and El-Mehna Imraa (My Job is Being a Woman) by Heba Youssri are just a few of the many successful Egyptian documentaries. Too bad they were not part of this festival.

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