A packed cinema at MAC Birmingham last Saturday, 23 February, were enthralled by the opportunity to see the latest film by celebrated director, Khaled El Hagar, one of Egypt’s most controversial and talked about film directors, who also happens to be a resident of the Birmingham suburb, Kings Heath.
The film – EL SHOOQ – was made in 2010 and released in Cairo to great acclaim in early 2011 just prior to the developments in that country that became known as the Arab Spring. In fact, some critics in Egypt have considered that the social conditions in the port city of Alexandria depicted in the film acted as a wake up call to the consciences of many Egyptians.
The film shows characters on a back street in Alexandria and the daily challenge to keep their head above water, when faced with corruption and the privations of their daily existence. The film’s narrative hinges on the character of Om Shooq, the matriarch of a family, who grinds coffee ceaselessly and who ‘reads’ coffee granules to predict the fate of her neighbours. Her tenacity to keep her family financially buoyant, at all costs, when faced with challenging scenarios, and her Machaevellian control over her neighbours, is at the heart of the engrossing drama.
Khaled also took part in a stimulating q n a after the film screening with Professor Roger Shannon, Edge Hill University, when the wider social and cultural implications of the film regarding the Arab Spring were discussed, as well as the conditions of film production in Egypt, both pre Arab Spring and after. Khaled discussed the filmic influences he is heir to, notably the work of Youssef Chahine, with whom he worked at the beginning of his career.
Khaled’s film is one of the most garlanded of recent Egyptian cinema, winning the coveted Golden Pyramid at the Cairo International Film Festival, and nominated by Egypt for Best Foreign Language Film in the run up to the 2012 Oscars.
The screening of EL SHOOQ took place as part of the Departure Lounge film screenings that showcase films and film makers taking off.