Egypt's film hub is a cafe in Cairo
Maadi’s dilapidated villas have been put to some outlandish uses over the years, chiefly as pubs and restaurants. Perhaps one of the better projects is Art Cafe, right next door to the Maadi police station. Art Cafe is a friendly, open air cafe that has a spacious indoor area dedicated to art activities.
Art Cafe hosted Art Lab Festival as a fundraiser for Spaces of Expression, a project by CISV Egypt’s International People’s Program and Gudran Association For Arts And Development. The day-long festival included daytime art workshops for kids, with food provided from the delicious, but overpriced, Cairo Kitchen.
The money goes to a good cause though; establishing a permanent space for independent and audio and visual arts in Alexandria. Tickets had a suggested fee of EGP 40 for adults and EGP 30 for children under 12, though some opted to pay more.
The art workshops started at 1pm and the short film screenings at 2pm. From 6pm to 9pm the audience was treated to Like Jelly’s humorous and spontaneous songs.
The art activities ranged from painting mugs to free painting in what Art Cafe called the creativity room. Art Cafe hosted the festival free of charge, aiming to add as much money as possible to the EGP 21,000 the project managed to raise prior to the festival.
As expected, the crowds started filling up the venue just around the time Like Jelly were set to play. The event had no information available in Arabic, but staff members were available to talk at length on the project and CISV.
“CISV Egypt is a registered NGO under CISV international which operates in 65 countries and 200 cities, focusing on intercultural learning and educational activities with a focus on informal learning or learning through participation and living in multicultural settings,” said Rowan El Shimi, staff member of Spaces of Expression.
CISV Egypt’s International People’s Program is inviting 25 volunteers, both local and international, from 12 countries, to live in Alexandria for three weeks starting on 27 December. The volunteers will work on renovating a spacious 12-bedroom apartment in Alexandria that used to belong to Bahna Films – one of the bigger production companies in Egypt that operated from 1932 to 1962.
“The owner of the apartment, Bassil Bahna, is donating the apartment to Gudran to transform it into a hub for independent cinema. It is a huge apartment but we hope to be done with two rooms by the time the volunteers leave, 16 January, so Gudran can use it for activities,” said El Shimi.
The apartment will also feature a cafeteria and a museum for Bahna films, with some memorabilia including original actors’ contracts, complete with signatures.
“In addition to the museum and the screenings, the 12 rooms will host other artistic activities, similar to Mosireen but not necessarily political,” said El Shimi.
The Art Lab Festival raised EGP 9,000 and CISV Egypt hopes to raise more. El Shimi says these things have a “way of working out.”
“We still need EGP 16,000 but we are hopeful and we are planning other activities. We are hosting a movie night on 1 December at the CISV office where we will screen Wasteland and have a discussion afterwards.”