So many stories that do not matter seem to get a hold of our daily lives. So much stuff that intoxicate our souls is forced to enter into our minds and poisoin it. Why? We forgot about what is basic authentic and really important. What it means to struggle and to fianlly overcome that struggle. We can enter a fight for justice with weapons but can we use who we are and what we do as a weapon that fights for justice? Can we use who we are to gain recognition without permanently altering our lives, which have been already modified by the external events? This matter of being useful vs being used in the community that you can be debated endlessly. A part of history is a part of who we are and I think it is important to become aware of the events as pieces from a big puzzle that would turn out in the end into the human history. As many people as many stories in the world, and by watching documentaries we can get a great deal of the reality they’re facing. I had the tremendous opportunity to sit down with Australian filmmaker Kim Beamish and talk about the importance of documentaries both for the people involved into making them and for the ones watching them. His movie The Tentmakers of Cairo is screened for the first time in our country due to the One World Romania, festival for human rights.
I learnt that the process of making the movie took 4 years.
Yes. So, I lived in Egypt for nearly four years. I spent most of that time filming and meeting my characters, building their thrust and having me enter into their lives. It was a long process.
Why did it take four years? Did you plan this or was it the fate?
It was fate I suppose. The film is following a path of Egypt’s history, so I had to wait for this history to play out. When I arrived the revolution in Egypt had just happened and so Egypt was going through changes and these changes were happening I was filming and the events were unfolding for my characters. I didn’t know how long it was going to take but in the end it took four years for Egypt to get to that point of ellecting a president.
Wasn’t it dangereous to film during that rough period?
It could have been, yes. For me not so much, because where I was filming it was not a dangerous place. All the people that were there I knew and they looked after me. And there was not much violence happening where I was. If I had been making another film envolved much more with the protests then there would have been a bigger problem. But for me it was okay.
What drew your attention upon this craft as a subject for your movie?
I met the tentmakers through another person, who introduced me to the tentmakers and through her I was able to gain their trust. I wanted to tell a story about the people not involved into the revolution. In all revolutions, including the one here, only about 1% of the people are involved in the fighting, or the change, whereas the revolution affects everyone. So I wanted to tell a story of these people that weren’t entirely involved into the revolution. The tentmakers were that perfect story because they talked a lot about what was happening, but they were never actually involved in the protests or that conflict part of the revolution.
How did the revolution affect the industry of the tentmakers?
The revolution pretty much destroyed the tourism trade. The tourists used to go to Egypt to see the Piramids and Tutankhamon and they used to buy a lot of work from the tentmakers. So, much of the work which the tentmakers do, which is hand stitched texture work, was sold to the tourists and the tentmakers made a nice living out of that. But then the tourists left and almost all of the income was taken away and so they had to find other ways to adapt and change in order to earn a living. So, they were affected in quite a big way.
But they did not leave their main job.
No. The art of the tentmakers has been around for hundreds of years and the type of stitching that they do can be traced back to the Pharaohs. It’s a very old art form, so they were never going to leave the art form, but they had to find ways to adapt and change, which is what the tentmakers have been doing for hundreds of years. Now they have to look at selling their work outside Egypt. That is how they are adapting and changing at the moment.
Are you interested in the impact of your movie upon the viewers?
Of course. This is why we make films. The audiences have been very varied. I had audiences from around the world and in Egypt. Everybody takes the same kind of things from the film in terms of seeing the lives of others and other people, how they are dealing with these situations. Anybody who knows the history of Egypt can identify with the events that happened because they are all very important steps through the Egyptian revolution which is still going. So, it has been received really well by all of the audiences that have seen it, so far.
How did the movie influence the tentmakers? Where they affected in some sort of way, maybe emotionally? Did it help them?
The film may have helped the tentmakers in an emotional sense. I think it has helped in terms of people are now aware of who they are and there is a lot more interest in their work, which is part of that adaptation that I was talking about before. They want to sell to an international audience and so the film is helping to make them a bit more recognized the overseas. They have no problem with how they are potrayed. They’ve seen the film themselves, obviously, and they all liked it and appreciated it.
How do you feel about a film festival dedicated to human rights like One World Romania?
It is a fantastic festival and I really glad to be part of it and have the film playing here. I think it is a big step in terms of human rights, overall. I think human rights can start into a place where we recognize other people, when we recognize that we all have the same conflicts and issues. We are all affected in the same way by many things. So, by a Romanian audience seeing the lives of Egyptian community and being able to recognize similarities between their own lives and the Egyptian lives is a big step of human rights, in terms of that recognition of others. Once you have recognized somebody else as being similar to yourself is harder to enact some violence and torture upon them.