Revisiting Memory

Revisiting Memory is a project dedicated to building a participatory archive questioning the moving image’s role in capturing moments of social upheaval and periods of transition, in turn influencing the formation of public opinion. Alongside building an archive at Cimatheque’s premises, we will invite our partners in "Visionary Archive" to curate programmes from their own material revolving around the same line of questioning.

Despite Egypt’s rich cinematic legacy, there is no true centralized film archive, or at least not one that has been adequately developed. The national film archives are in complete disarray, with over a century of work subjected to horrid conditions, some lost entirely. Personal collectors may acquire important archival pieces, but opportunities to present their collection under circumstances that would protect the integrity of the material are scarce.

Revisiting Memory will invite professional and nonprofessional curators to help build and present an archive around three major historic phases in Egypt’s recent past. The aim is to provide the foundation whereby questions regarding the ownership of history and the veracity of contentious narratives are triggered:

- The 1952 military coup – or revolution – led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, Muhammed Naguib, and the Free Officers
- The 1967 Seven Day War
- The Camp David Accords and assassination of Anwar Sadat (1978–1981).

These dates are envisioned as a loose timeline meant to prompt the recollection of other pivotal events in the social and cultural spheres, and explore Egyptians’ relationship to them on a personal level. Thus, the project not only deals with the archives and history, but with the idea of activating memory through the image and propagating haunting representations of the past.

The archival and research process will be informed partly by mainstream, commercial Egyptian cinema and the ways in which nationalization of the industry in the 1960s affected production. In addition, the heralding of television into the homes of Egyptians, along with the introduction of advertisements will be studied as important visual documents. However, special attention will be paid to collecting material created on the margins of society: amateur footage and home videos, independent films made beyond the influence of the state, and unedited newsreels, amongst other film-related ephemera. The inclusion of different cinematic languages and aesthetics in the project will help create an alternative visual history and unconventional reading of the past.

Building the Archive

The idea stems from present concerns related to the dissemination of different types of footage, their role in mythmaking by proponents of various truths, and the fragility of the medium itself. Can the temporality of the filmic image lend itself to a deeper, more intricate understanding of a country’s mood, or politically motivated shifts in perspective? Can it fully encapsulate a singular moment, and how does it facilitate an activation of memories that have long been forgotten?

In essence, accessibility to the archives in Egypt is granted to a select few, and that which is made available might be heavily censored. It is sometimes nearly impossible to find an alternative retelling of modern Egyptian history, namely due to the lack of impartial resources, or the prevalence of footage that has been damaged or tampered with by various interested parties. Gaps in information contribute to an inability to tell the whole story, and instead leave mere impressions of the past.

Curating the Archive

The archives are significant repositories of a country’s legacy, a means of collecting knowledge and documenting history. At the same time, recent archival practices have openly questioned their authority as neutral and transparent sources of information, particularly in post-colonial societies. They are sometimes incomplete, or the objects themselves have been meddled with, suffused with the originator’s political associations or emotional connection to the material. The process of handling the archives, allowing access, and giving it expression informs much of the understanding behind building an archival collection at Cimatheque.

Because historic narratives and the concept of the archives are contested areas in Egypt, Revisiting Memory aims to open the questions of ownership and interpretation of collective memory by allowing curators (both professional and nonprofessional) to present their own visions of the material at hand. The intention is to allow an active engagement with the medium and initiate critical discourse regarding pivotal moments in history. Concurrently, this subjective approach to presenting the archives aims to expose the direct and indirect ways in which memory and nostalgia have been manufactured by those in power, subverting well-established notions regarding history, identity, and a citizen’s relationship to the state.

Giving voice to these peripheral memories will help question the extent to which the acts of remembering and forgetting are indicative of a society’s agency over its past, a collective response to trauma, or a state imposed upon them by governments and other powerful entities. Noise and fragmented images fill in the spots that have suddenly turned black, or been willfully obliterated: it is hoped that revisiting the archives and their utility will uncover formerly lost truths, but more importantly expose the fragility of memory.

Program

"Revisiting Memory" in Cairo will propose a public program including film screenings and talks in collaboration with other partners in the "Visionary Archive" project. The events will commence in the Fall of 2014 and continue till April 2015.

The partners in "Visionary Archive" are working primarily with "found" archives, the emergence of which can be attributed in part to the expression of political upheaval, in places such as Khartoum and Guinea-Bissau, or with collections that have been changed and marked by them, as in Johannesburg and in Berlin. In screenings and other public events, the question will be raised regarding the structural relationship of cinema to the changes facing a nation, and explore the similarities and differences between various countries. It is therefore about exploring film language and different ways of reading cinema: the role of the curatorial perspective will be as important in understanding cinematographic expression as the aesthetic of film itself.

Cimatheque

Cimatheque is a multipurpose space located in downtown Cairo dedicated to celebrating film and supporting the needs of independent filmmakers in Egypt. Conceived in a situation wherein the local alternative filmmaking scene has developed substantially, it is a dynamic space in which independent filmmakers and enthusiasts can network, research, and develop their projects. Equipped with a screening hall, analogue film lab, book and DVD library, archive, and viewing room, it enables access to films (both from the region and abroad) rarely seen in the country.
Cimatheque is dedicated to increasing the visibility of films previously unseen by the general public, and preserving important facets of cultural heritage.