May 2021, arsenal cinema

arsenal 3 until June 8: From the Cimatheque Archive – Atteyat Al Abnoudy

One of the partner archives of the “Archive außer sich” project is the Cimatheque - Alternative Film Centre in Cairo. The Centre offers screenings, workshops, a library and a laboratory in addition to its archive, which contains manuscripts, photographs and periodicals, as well as 35-mm copies and material on important cinematic works from the region and beyond. The archive also includes items of lesser-known film heritage: ephemeral materials, found footage, amateur and advertising films, newsreels, experimental documentaries, short films and press kits for B-movies. The Cimatheque archive is a special one: filmmakers contribute their work knowing that it is not only in safe hands, but can also participate in a public discourse. The first of these was Atteyat Al Abnoudy (1939-2018), who entrusted a large portion of her films to the Cimatheque team in 2011, shortly after the revolution, hoping they would be preserved there and made accessible again. The Cimatheque digitized not just some of her films, but even outtakes and footage that had never been shown publicly. In 2018 they held a retrospective dedicated to the work of the documentary filmmaker, which was subsequently shown at the Arsenal and is now being shown again on arsenal 3. In May, “Archive besides” will be showing Atteyat Al Abnoudy's films on our streaming platform arsenal 3. An online discussion with Asmaa Yehia El-Taher, Atteyat Al Abnoudy's daughter, and Tamer El Said, filmmaker and co-founder of Cimatheque took place on May 20 at 8pm. It can be seen on our YouTub Channel.

Born in the Nile delta to a working-class family in 1939, Atteyat Al Abnoudy worked from time to time as an actress to finance her law studies in Cairo. Before the backdrop of her work as a journalist and with numerous artists and authors already in her surroundings, she decided to study film at the Cairo Higher Institute of Cinema in 1972, where she became the first woman in Egypt to shoot documentaries. Renowned as a filmmaker dedicated to such themes as poverty, the oppression of women, and social injustice, her personal style (“no script, no actors, no direction, the camera follows the subject”) left a lasting impression on documentary filmmaking in Egypt. After her death, outtakes and footage showing Al Abnoudy herself working with her team were found among her holdings. As the producer of her films, she carefully archived everything.

HORSE OF MUD (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1971, OV/EnS, 12 min)
In one of her earliest and most poignant works,  Atteyyat Al Abnoudy captures the dignity of Cairo's poor. In this beautifully photographed document, the primitive process of brick-making is examined, revealing the monotonous choreography of a nonetheless meaningful social task. The sad dance of their fluid movements intermingled with personal stories deeply resonates.

SAD SONG OF TOUHA (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1972, OV/EnS, 12 min) is a stunning portrait of Cairo's street performers. This community's story is told through the lens of Abnoudy's unobtrusive camera, accompanied by the spare and haunting narration provided by poet Abdel Rahman El-Abnoudy. Depicting fire-eaters, child contortionists, and other performers slowly taking over a small Cairene street, the documentary's dreamlike quality eerily captures the artistry displayed by this tight-knit group.

THE SANDWICH (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1975, OV (little dialogue), 12 min)  is an experimental short that explores the idyllic rural province of “El Abnoud.” In a village that seems to have escaped the passage of time, the softness of the film’s focus on a group of children freely playing in an open, green space is effectively altered by outside forces. Deftly combining elements of fiction and non-fiction, THE SANDWICH is perhaps the lesser known yet more confident of Al Abnoudy’s early films. 

INTO THE DEPTH (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1979, OV/EnS, 39 min) This rarely seen film captures life at a rural school in Egypt, and the complex array of issues the students and villagers must combat.

SEAS OF THIRST (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1980, OV/EnS, 44 min) In SEAS OF THIRST, Al Abnoudy moves away from her usual exploration of Egypt’s south to the north of the country, wherein she captures communities living near the salty lakes of El Borrolos during a treacherous drought. Bearing a stark contrast to the barren landscape around them, the richness of the local characters provide the moving narrative of a struggling class in its entirety.

PERMISSIBLE DREAMS (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1983, OV/EnS, 31 min) Told through the eyes of Oum Said, a woman farmer living near the canal zone, PERMISSIBLE DREAMS explores the hopes of a sole character who speaks directly to the camera throughout much of the film. Slightly different aesthetically from other works in Al Abnoudy’s oeuvre, PERMISSIBLE DREAMS captures a woman’s struggles with societal and gender inequality and the desire for a real education, but in typical Al Abnoudy fashion, eschews ideological trappings or fetishizing of Egypt’s poorer classes.

RHYTHM OF LIFE (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1988, OV/EnS, 58 min) A pivotal and rather innovative work in Al Abnoudy’s career, RHYTHM OF LIFE can be seen as a kind of symphony depicting rural life as played out in four acts. A beautiful depiction of the daily life of farmers, the film unfolds in the filmmaker’s characteristically unobtrusive and deeply humane manner.

AMAL DONQOL – THE TALK OF ROOM NUMBER 8 (Atteyat Al Abnoudy, Egypt 1990, OV/EnS, 26 min) In this deeply affecting film, influential Egyptian poet Amal Donqol speaks openly about his work and shares his thoughts on everything from happiness, politics, his sense of alienation in an increasingly craven and materialistic society, and his long battle with illness. One of Al Abnoudy’s more personal films given her proximity to the subject in a personal sense, THE TALK OF ROOM 8 is a memorable ode to one of the Arab world’s most important poets.

BUYERS AND SELLERS (Atteyat Al Abnoudy,  Egypt 1992, OV/EnS, 27 min) An incredible proto road movie, BUYERS AND SELLERS cleverly juxtaposes the fates of the haves and have-nots in the early 1990s, a decade that saw a rapid adoption of neo-liberal economic policies. By providing an evocative exploration of the relationship between Egyptians and the Suez Canal, the film in many ways foreshadows the sweeping societal and economic changes about to take hold in the remaining two decades of Mubarak’s presidency.

RUSHES (Egypt, late 70s until early 90s, silent, 15 min) After her death, the Cimatheque staff found outtakes and footage of Al Abnoudy at work with her team amongst the material she had donated. As the producer of her films, she had carefully archived everything. RUSHES shows a selection of these rare finds.

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