Tahrir News Network (TNN) – Cairo, March 2015.
Ibn Rushd’s resonating and deep-cutting words, the stomps and throbs of the gypsy dance and music, and the words, “ideas that have wings…no one can stop their flight,” all had their toll on me as they appeared on my computer screen, by virtue of a YouTube channel belonging to an anonymous user. As I watched the profoundly artistic film, Youssef Chahine’s al-Maseer (1997), and any of his other films for that matter, I was able to pause, minimize my screen, sift through some work, and play them again knowing they would still be there for the moment and, indeed, forever; or so I had thought. It was a couple of months after when I felt the desire to revisit the film, its words and its music. The quest was attempted through all the possible combinations: al-Maseer, Destiny, le Destin. The next search attempt was at the Sixth Day, Cairo Station, Silence…We’re Rolling and even The Land. Yet, the two searches were to no avail and lead to absolutely nothing, perhaps only to a passionate viewer’s despair.
The despair was, however, momentary. Because, in a swift move, major works of the late and renowned filmmaker were made available on the virtual channel stations’ website, YouTube. This time, one is to expect that YouTube would harbor the films for good, as they were uploaded by Misr International Films (MIF), Chahine’s very own company that was established in 1972 and that produced his major works.
MIF had joined YouTube in August 2011. It was, however, four years later in 2015 that the channel uploaded entire film and television series collections. With the names in both Arabic, French, and English —a format very reminiscent and characteristic of Chahine —films dating back to the noir-et-blanc era, and others to later in the twentieth century, were all uploaded to the internet less than a week ago. By deliberately making available this corpus that includes not only Chahine’s groundbreaking films but also films belonging to directors Hassan al-Imam, Ibrahim ’Emara, and ’Ali Badrakhan, and documentaries belonging to other renowned filmmakers, the company rendered its YouTube channel a gateway onto major Egyptian and Arab artistic productions.
With a detailed descriptive paragraph, list of cast members, list of photographers, and editors accompanying each film, Misr International Films’ channel is indeed a valuable asset for those generally interested in and those studying Egyptian cinema.
Perhaps, it is the recorded interview series titled Chahine Pourquoi – Chahine Why – شاهين ليه ,which features Chahine’s thoughts and opinions on a variety topics, that amounts to the company’s special and most prized possession made available to the public.
Many of the films found on the channel are ones that, in addition to their innovative artistic qualities, were produced at a time widely dubbed as the “Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema.” Others that retain strong political themes and that communicate political grievances offer insights into the Egyptian political, social, economic, and artistic circumstances of the time when they were produced. Cinema, as any other form of art, has been continuously construed as both a product and a tool; a product of its time’s political, social, and economic circumstances, and a tool to understand and to analyze those very same circumstances in contradistinction to our own. Therefore, cultural historians studying contemporary Egypt cannot do without paying close attention to Egyptian cinema and particularly to the cinema’s seminal works, many of them now available on YouTube through MIF’s database.
This recent move by MIF comes as no surprise. As a matter of fact, it falls in line with the company’s recent initiative, Zawya. Zawya is an art-house cinema located in Downtown Cairo and which supports local independent filmmaking in Egypt and the Arab world by maintaining a rigorous and busy schedule of weekly screenings. The general philosophy underlying Zawya is one that dictates the art-house to provide for a venue where all cinema enthusiasts are able to enjoy various cinematic productions, talks, and even educate themselves in the art of cinema. This philosophy is, essentially, one that promotes filmmaking to a public enticed by the wonders of the moving picture, at low prices and at the heart of a bustling city. Accordingly, making available such a valuable corpus of artistic gems in a single online venue that is accessed by millions of users daily perfectly corresponds to such a philosophy.
The commercialization of art is vehemently condemned as one of the major ails of our contemporary world. MIF’s attempts, on the other hand, to forge independent cinema houses —frequented by a cinema-loving public— and to make available as many groundbreaking and internationally-acclaimed Arabic-speaking films as possible on the internet, amount to serious efforts at rejecting and departing from such a ‘commercialization.’ After all, with Chahine’s paramount contributions to cinema as a universal language and with his profound and sincere love for cinema, immortalized in his words “cinema…without it I would die,” one wouldn’t expect otherwise from Misr International Films.