Highlights of the 6th Cairo Video Festival on show in Dubai, by Rachel Bennett

Today we welcome a new guest blogger to The Art Blog. Rachel Bennett brings us a review of the highlights of the Cairo Video Festival at Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre’s (Ductac).

by Rachel Bennett

Since the revolution, life in Egypt has increasingly relied on generators: many people have used them overcome power outages and surges.

The sixth edition of the Cairo Film Festival, highlights of which are screening at Ductac’s Gallery of Light borrowed this premise to surmise an innovative daily capacity for dogged persistence.

The international selection, brought to the UAE for the first time, forges various alternatives to keep life in motion. Medrar, the non-profit organisation behind the film festival, were motivated by a need to “create alternative channels, [to] assimilate the creative energy bursting in the region despite the difficult production conditions.”

There is intimacy and intensity in viewing the collection, which features 27 films from 14 international filmmakers, looping on private screens. The selection is diverse and at turns, funny and sinister. It sometimes channels the revolutionary spirit and at other times, revels in experimental cinema.

Revolution is here, overtly; in Silent Majority the hubbub of an absent crowd is translated visually, empty city scenes are the backdrop to flickering audio levels, the volume surging and dipping with the crowd’s emotions.

The films are frequently riven with the tension of juxtaposition. Undercurrents, Mai AlShazy’s split-screen short, was created in a workshop for Egyptian filmmakers running alongside the festival. In it, a submerged underwater world and its elongated soundscape contrasts with the sharp, explosive rage of a young female attacking a punch bag. The space between the two is the meeting point of resistance and non-resistance, and the whole speaks of frustration. The active aggressor is in combat with a passive enemy, confined within her frame. The calm blues of the ocean feel thwarted too; the bubbling soundtrack continuous despite the assault adjacent.

In Refrain: (Verb) Marwa Benhalim recasts YouTube footage from instructional videos, layering an imploring refrain over the collage to instil poetry in the mundane. This disjointed visual and verbal is a technique also used in one of the exhibition’s most unforgettable films. Robert, May, Rebekais the study of three characters, each with their own unsettling narrative. The tripartite film is a formal exploration, a progression of tropes borrowed from horror, or perhaps war documentary. A voice, severed from the visual, is the detached anthropologist musing unemotionally on the life and death of the haunted figures on screen. The short is sinister and compulsive, prototypically uncanny without becoming kitsch.

Grappling with kitsch head on, French filmmaker Céline Trouillet does a take-two on Bonnie Tyler’s romp through ‘80s bad taste in Song No. 22. In it, twins give an apathetic yet compelling rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart, calling forth and laughing at our inner power-ballad: in our mind we play the video (it’s been on repeat in my head since I left the exhibition) and feel foolish faced with a dead-eyed performance that challenges the emotional impact of the original.

Made in China, another workshop film, is littered with tat, first a Barbie on a bike stutters across the screen, unable to remain upright, her tinny plastic song playing haltingly as the wheels spin ineffectually. It’s funny, but again, uncanny – capturing the weird anachronistic absurdity of endless plastic rubbish touted in Cairo’s marketplaces. ‘What revolution?’ we might be prompted to ask.

This ‘generator’ propagates a determined, dual motion: local films articulate the energy of creative output, sustained despite adverse conditions, and the global films become a significant act of cultural appropriation that can cultivate further, greater energy. It’s a joy to see the selection transposed here to Dubai, a celebration of determined, fervent creativity.

* Cairo Video Festival: 6th Edition Highlights runs until Wednesday at The Gallery of Light, Ductac, Dubai. It is open daily from 9am – 10pm (2pm – 10pm Fridays). Admission is free.

The National journal, UAE, January 19, 2015.

Interview with VIDEOFOCUS, Stigmart10 Videobiennale special issue

From the first time we watched Mai Al Shazly’s work, we were deeply impressed by the radical way she explores the psychological nature of the cinematic image. Her cinema reveals a highly original and consistent vision of time and space undermining our knowledge in order to reintroduce us to the adventure of knowing. We are pleased to present Mai Al Shazly for this Videofocus Edition. Mai, how did you get started in experimental cinema?
First I would like to introduce myself as a visual artist and how I first started in photography then in experimental cinema and how the ways of expressing my ideas formed between static objects to moving objects.
Much of my works express ambiguous visual elements, trying to explore the visual language of the feelings the evoke in us, by expressing the meanings it holds, such as visual language of form through the usage of vivid colors, lines, shapes, patterns and textures to create a composition that could reflect different feelings, spirituality, beauty, ugliness and impermanence everybody can feel it in our contemporary life. And this how i started my abstract photography.
Alternating between abstract and representation, I started in experimental film influenced and explore the depth of human experience, trails, body movement, resistance and even the concept of discrepancy and the things which are opposed to one another to structural parallels between outside and inside, organic and manufactures and the natural and constructed landscape.

For this Videofocus Edition we have selected Undercurrents, a refined video installation evoking a visionary imagery reminding us of Francis Bacon’s triptychs. We want to take a closer look at the genesis of your film: how did you come up with the idea for this work?
The idea and the technical process of my video work passed through many stages, and I think the idea grown naturally out of work that I was doing before and these philosophical questions that always came to my mind. The concept of ” Resistance” was one of these questions and how resistance develops from mind resistance as a human nature to body resistance.
Meanwhile, it had also a political and social perspective. From my personal point of view “attacking those who organize repellent circumstances or regimes and working on weakening their power or destroying it is what called resistance”. And I wondered how can express this in an artwork. 

Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s concept of resistance is a fundamental starting point of your art research in Undercurrents. Can you introduce our reader to this idea behind you experimental film? 
For me BF Skinner was a role model, before I started working technically on my video I have read a lot and tried a lot to come up with the idea, I wanted to say that resistance as a repeated behavior because of “enhancement” whether positive enhancement or negative enhancement like punishment and insult and upon that we act whether we give up with some inconveniences, or resist and insist. For me boxing sandbag was the enhancement. 
We have been impressed by your peculiar use of the two channel formula reminding us of the two channel formula reminding us of Bacon’s paintings, highlighting the psychological nature of the cinematic image and its relationship to dualism. Could you comment this peculiar aspect of your Undercurrents? 
At first my point of view was only to show the relation between the performer and the sandbag where I should be focusing more on sandbag as an enhancement and how people can deal with.
Sometimes you will see the performer attack and another she talks to it as a person and that will makes you feel that there is a silent conversation between two people, meanwhile and in some moments you will see that she is totally surrendered. Actually all these scenes was unplanned and I was shooting behind a curtain. I did not want to confuse her but she did it very well. 
After that I decided to involve the sub merged underwater world in my video, and its elongated soundscape contrasts with the sharp. And I found that the space between the two is the meeting point of resistance and non-resistance, and the whole speaks of frustrating. The active aggressor is in combat with a passive enemy, confined within her frame. The calm blues of the ocean feel thwarted too; the bubbling soundtrack continuous despite the assault adjacent.

Could you take us through your creative process when you starting a new project? 
I really don’t have a particular way to work. I usually experiment and read a lot until I come up with the idea and I think I still see myself in the research and explore stage.

Your art reach of references. We have previously mentioned the Irish painter Francis Bacon, tell us your biggest influences in art and how they have affected your work? 
For me the biggest
influences in art are, John Baldessari (conceptual art and photography), Shirana Shahbazi (photography), Pipilotti Rist (video art), Yvonne Rainer (performance), and Vito Acconci (performance).

You are a multidisciplinary artist: in what manner your work as photographer influences your video making?
Sure, the way I see, the way I frame, light, colors, geometry, all of that. But you realize that is only a part of the video making processes. It’s as important as sound. They are so many layers in video making.

What do you think about the contemporary art scene in Cairo, from an experimental filmmaker and well-known photographer’s point of view?
After the 2011 Egyptian revolution triggered a new era of arts appeared that reflects new social and political environment.  The revolution triggered a new public culture from the beginning of the revolution, artists played a significant role in the protests. Likewise, many genres of art emerged such as street art, music, and independent cinema.
Now and after more that four years the political situation became more complicated, and the art scene became not as it was when the revolution erupted. The freedom of expressing and movement became difficult that before. now there are a few independent art foundations still exist, but the face some constrains.

Thanks for sharing your time, Mai, we wish you all the best with your artist career. What’s next for you? Have you a particular film in mind?
Yes, these days I am reading Camera Lucida for Roland Barthes, and I try to explore myself through re-reading images inside the book to enable me makes a small performance video trying to use the camera as an active witness.

Published on Jul 3, 2015.

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