A fascinating insight into the life and work of artisans in Egypt
Screening today -Tuesday 21st April at 18:30 at the Grande Salle Colombière and Wednesday 22nd April at 12:00 at the Salle Communale. Tickets and info here
“You can’t buy thousands of dollars of fabric and give a needle and thread to anyone”, opines a UPS delivery guy whilst picking up a parcel from a shopkeeper in Cairo. The shop in question, sells beautiful hand sewn designs which have been made on the premises by extremely skilled artisans. The designs are now works of art which are hung on walls of homes but traditionally they were used to line and decorate the inside of tents. However, the quote is an analogy for what’s going on in the country at the time, the delivery guy is bemoaning the lack of skill and expertise in Mohamed Morsi, the country’s new leader.
For over three years, Kim Beamish the director of “The Tent Makers of Cairo” followed a community of artisans whose craft has remained largely unchanged for centuries, and in this film, not only do we see the rich, complex colours and intricate work of their designs, but we hear them discussing the current and complex political situation going on in Egypt. Discussions continue during power cuts and involve lots of smoking and lots of coffee. Breaking news happens and they continue sewing and giving their opinion. A heated argument happen in the street over a traffic issue and a tent maker watches with interest, only to leave his needle and thread aside to try and calm the situation down. There are some lovely, touching scenes when we see the artisans at home with their families.
Yet despite the turmoil outside and the long hours of work, there is also laughter, jokes are made about the government from both sides, about each other and a joint bemoaning that times are tough.
The artisan’s work is invited to be shown at a quilting exhibition in Pennsylvania and we see them preparing for the trip. Once in the U.S. A , their work is greatly admired and in demand. Here we see not only the visual contrast between the sights and sounds of Cairo to the sights of Pennsylvania, but also a contrast of how their work is cherished. Back in Egypt, the skilled tent makers reflect on how lovely it was to be appreciated for their work in America “unlike in this country”. When they are then invited to Paris to a sewing fair, they are again valued for their skills. Although some worry that the trade will die out, there are others who are teaching the art to their sons in the hope that it will continue.
This film is a fascinating insight into the life and work not only of the artisans, but also an interesting perspective of the political situation in Egypt during the time of filming. A perspective through the eyes of Egyptians themselves, not through news anchors or “experts”. A country of complex colours of different designs. Just like the artisan’s thread, the country travels in different directions throughout the film resulting in a rich and interesting work of art for the viewer.