The Tentmakers of Cairo

The Tentmakers of Cairo
In Egypt, our notion about Australian cinema is limited
to stars like Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Nicole Kidman and films
like Australia and the first three Mad Max films that were shot
in Aussie land. On the other side of the new world, we can discover that some
Aussies are interested in Egyptian society and arts.
Before moving to Cairo, Australian-born filmmaker Kim
Beamish completed a Graduate Degree in Film and Television at the Victorian
College of Arts in 2001. After working with Melbourne’s Open Channel Co-Op, he
realized his long debut Just Punishment that revolved around a drug
smuggler who was sentenced to death in Singapore. The feature documentary was
aired on the Australian ABC TV, only to be nominated for an ATOM Award in 2007.
After joining several projects in Australia, Beamish moved to Cairo in the year
2012 when his wife, who works for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs,
was transferred to Egypt for a following three year period.  
However, the story behind the premise of The Tentmakers
of Cairo
goes back before Kim Beamish’s move to Egypt. “During my work in Australia,
I was introduced to Dr. Robert Bowker, a specialist on Middle East and Islamic
issues at Australian National University who was once the Ambassador to Egypt from
2005 to 2008)”, revealed Beamish. “I was asking him about stories and people he
might know so his words and memories introduced me to the tentmakers of Cairo
before I even arrive. Moreover, his wife Jenny Bowker, who is a visual artist
and quilter moving back and forth between Cairo and Canberra, took me to Bab
Zuweila and El-Khayameya Street where all the tentmakers work. It was only three
days after I arrived with my wife in Cairo… Jenny has been working and building
up a good friendship with them for eight years… They even call her Omm
El-Khayameya or The Mother of Tentmakers”.
To gain the confidence of tentmakers, Beamish went to visit
them and spent some time at their shops without a camera. During the following
visits, the filmmaker started to bring his photographic camera then his video
camera in order to shoot the documentary. Each of the Tentmaker’s shops opens
out onto the street like a cocoon of color bursting in contradiction to the
dust and dirt of the street. The men sit on long benches in the doorway, one
foot protruding from underneath a large piece of yellow canvas, a plank of
plywood acting as a backrest. Each hunched over, quickly placing accurate
stitches into ornate Islamic designs easily found in the mosques and ancient
buildings that inhabit the surrounding area. “The three main protagonists of
the film are Hossam, his brother Ekramy, and two stitchers Hany and Tarek”,
explained Beamish who was interested to tell stories of Egyptian and their
struggle to make a safe passage with their works and family in the aftermath of
January 25 Revolution.
“I did not ask for the services of a music composer because
I wanted to make the audience captivated by the normal noise of the streets of
Cairo”, revealed the director. “Usually music can drive the emotions of film
audience to one unidirectional way which is something I did not want”.
Not only Jenny Bowker was influenced by The Tentmakers of
Cairo, some Egyptian artist like Moataz Nasr featured Khayamiya-inspired
aspects in his contemporary mixed-media artwork. Susan Hefuna’s installation
“I Love Egypt!”, featured in the 18th Biennale of Sydney in 2012)
also applied Khayamiya within the context of contemporary installation art.
From 2009, the Egyptian artist Hani el-Masri collaborated with the Tentmakers
to produce a 5m x 8m interpretation of the One Thousand and One Nights. These
artists could be the stars of a sequel to Beamish’s film either he will do it
or not.
Kim Beamish submitted his documentary to a lot of festivals and
recently he was has been invited to screen at one of the world’s most
prestigious documentary film festivals: the prestigious Visions du Réel
in Nyon, Switzerland this April.

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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