8 things you didn't know About The Tentmakers of Cairo

1. Kaaba in Mecca, The black tent that covers Islam's most sacred location used to be hand stitched by the men in Chareh el Khiamiah, the Tentmakers Street in Cairo, Egypt.

2.  Chareh el Khiamiah, the Tentmakers Street, used to be a motel of sorts for traders and merchants wanting to pass through the gates of Bab Zweila to make their way to the Khan el Kahlili markets.


3.  Bab Zuweila and Chareh el Khiamiah, the Tentmakers Street, date back to the Fatimid era of the 11th century.


4.  Up until only recently only men stitched these ornate Islamic designs due to the weight of what was previously sewn into leather.

5.  It is thought that 20 years ago there were more than 500 stitchers who worked in an around Chareh el Khiamiah, the Tentmakers Street, today there is less than 100.


6.  The stitching used in Tutankhamun’s robes were stitched using the exact same technique as that of the Tentmakers today.


7. Many of the designs stitched by the Tentmakers come from the same designer causing tension in the street as to who actually owns the design.

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8.  A Khiamiah piece celebrating the 25 January 2011 Egyptian revolution hangs today in Durham University in the United Kingdom.


What do documentary filmmakers think of measuring the social impact of their films? In a guest post for Indiewire, Alison Byrne Fields answers that question.

Films are films,” wrote one filmmaker in response to our survey. “If they are a visually interesting experience, spark conversation and inspire people to engage new ideas, they’re successful. Films should not be reduced to advertisements, no matter how worthy the cause. They need to exist on their own terms. If they’re good, they’ll get people thinking.

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Mike Leigh Is the Master Filmmaker Who Hates Hollywood

We say: ‘Give us some money, we don’t know what it is going to be about, we will not discuss casting, and you will see the film when it is finished.’ And only one of two things happens; either they say ‘great, here’s the bread?’ or they say ‘fuck off.’ And when that happens, we don’t make the film—that has happened a lot,” he said, laughing.

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Children of the Storm: A Storyhacker’s Guide to Werner Herzog’s Universe

María Laura Ruggiero, No Film School, October 15 2014

Producing and creating a movie is about moving people and it's about the courage to create the ecstasy of truth. It's not about academia (“character development is bullshit”). It's not about continuity (“if it's powerful material, it will fit together”) and it's not about your own problems (“the film set is a no-cry zone”). 

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The Ethics of Documentary Filmmaking

We say this to everyone at the beginning, we say you’re going to see this film before it’s done. You can see it when it can still be changed. We’re going to try to convince you that we need you in this movie; that it’s important for the story that it’s good for society in general to tell this story, and why your part of it is so important. At the end of the day, if I can’t convince you we’ll take you out of the movie.
— Gordon Quinn, co-producer "Hoop Dreams"
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Goodbye to 3-D Rules

So I learned the rules, and I saw that it’s not very interesting with the rules.
— Fabrice Aragno, Jean-Luc Godard’s d.p.

 Vadim Rizov in IssuesReports Oct 20, 2014

To a degree, the content of Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language will be familiar to viewers who have kept up with the director’s latter-day work: aphorisms and quotations by the score, obdurately unidentified characters whose relationship to each other is unclear, snatches of disparate music cued and cut off with disorienting abruptness. It’s not for everyone, but Godard’s first three-dimensional film is so visually astonishing that a lack of comprehension isn’t a barrier. Outdoors, sea and land stretch out into a receding horizon deeper than anything you’ve seen. Inside, there are more knockout distortions transforming even the most banal objects: a simple overhead shot of a bathtub looks down at a space that’s clearly narrower than it is and far deeper than it could be. The shot that cued spontaneous applause at the premiere Cannes screening is an event all in itself: a simple image of a man, a woman and her husband becomes eye-melting when one camera follows to the right as the latter two move toward a lake, creating two separate 2-D planes that reunite into 3-D when she walks back to where she started.

These images are courtesy of Fabrice Aragno, Godard’s d.p. on 2010’s Film Socialisme and a director and artist in his own right. “I don’t say I’m a director of photography — in France it’d be chef opérateur, chief operator, “ he explained over Skype. “I cannot be chief of anything. And director? No. You just watch the lights. With the Canon, when we saw that you can receive the light with natural light, we don’t need to put other kind of lights.” The production has six credited cameras; the bulk of its footage was shot with a Canon 5D at the start and ended, after four years of production, with a Canon 1DC. Nearly everything is lit solely with natural light, with Aragno and Godard conceiving of themselves as receiving and responding to light rather than constructing it; as Aragno said, because of this, “the direction is from the outside to inside the camera, it’s not from inside the camera to outside.”

Before production began, Aragno decided to explore 3-D from the ground up. Building his own rigs to hold two cameras, he was determined not to be bound by convention or precedent. “When 3-D became a new technique, at the same time very quickly there became rules,” he explained. “People say, ‘You can’t be more than six centimeters between the two cameras. If the background and foreground are too far away, it cannot be good.’ So I learned the rules, and I saw that it’s not very interesting with the rules.”

Then came a period of testing. “Working in theater, I worked one year in engineer school,” Aragno said. “I learned how to use my hands to build things in wood or iron or aluminum.” One of those tests involved building a rig to hold two Flip Minos. “I made a couple of tests with friends at their home of a boy and a girl,” he recalled. “I asked the boy to go to the kitchen on my right, and the right camera followed him and the left stayed, so the 3-D broke. The girl is in your left eyes and the boy on the right. When he was in the kitchen, your brain didn’t know how to watch. It hurts to watch a little, but it was interesting, and when the boy comes back to the girl, the two cameras were again in classic 3-D. So I showed it to Jean-Luc and he decided to use this for the film” — hence the applause-getting shot described above.

For the deep-horizon outside images, Aragno similarly ignored the usual guidelines: “Hollywood says you shouldn’t have more than six centimeters between cameras, so I began at 12 to see what happened.” Likewise, for the foreshortened perspective of the bathtub shots, he brought the cameras closer together than traditionally advised. Images of Godard’s dog, Roxy, were shot by the director himself with amateur pocket cameras from Sony and Fuji, images taken every time the two went for a walk.

According to Aragno, Godard had rushes in both 2-D and 3-D, but it’s unclear how much 3-D he actually watched. (He did the rough cut on a linear tape editing system in 2-D.) Still, said Aragno, “sometimes he really directs for 3-D. An interesting image for me was in the first part, when the couple is coming by night at home and you just have their shadows [in the car]. The shadow on the floor is 2-D, it’s not 3-D. It’s 2-D in a 3-D image.” And that’s appropriate for a film whose subject, as usual for Godard, is as much film itself as the plot, since “cinema is a shadow and a projection.”

Aragno wasn’t just the d.p. but the sound recordist and mixer as well, crafting a mix that aggressively separated channels, with competing dialogue on the left and right, mirroring the visual aggression. The postproduction was very hands-on, with the final mix, color correction and 3-D done in Godard’s house, “in a little basement without lights or windows,” Aragno said. “We built a small surround mix and 3-D image place. We edited together during two weeks all the film, mixing and color correction at the same time. I had Pro Tools working at my left hand, I had DaVinci Resolve 9 at my right. My third computer had a player to synchronize both of them. We made a little mix, we watched two or three minutes of the film, then we stopped, I said what I was thinking that we could change, he said the same. Then we changed the image and the mix, and that’s it.”

Originally published in Filmmaker Online ->

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NYFF Documentaries: Political Cinema Horizons from RED ARMY to CITIZENFOUR

By Steven Erickson | Press Play October 14, 2014

For the first time in 52 years, the New York Film Festival has expanded to include a 15-film documentary sidebar. This includes the expected portraits of artists (Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction, Albert Maysles’ Iris, Les Blank & Gina Leibrecht’s How to Smell a Rose: A Visit with Ricky Leacock in Normandy), but it also encompasses films in which Americans gaze at other cultures and even attempt to critique them (Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, J. P. Sniadecki’s The Iron Ministry, Gabe Polsky’s Red Army.) There’s another strain of documentary here, which might be called the national self-portrait. Arthur Jafa’s Dreams Are Colder Than Death attempts to take the pulse of black America. Ossama Mohammed & Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portraitshows the ravages of civil war in Syria. All these films suggest different ways of making political cinema. Do any of them offer real innovations or ways forward? 

It’s not exactly news that sports can be a realm where nationalism plays itself out in a more benign fashion than war, but Red Army examines the last decade of the Cold War through the lens of hockey. Relying heavily on a varied array on archival footage, as well as present-day interviews, he centers on Soviet hockey great Slava Fetisov, who came to prominence in the early ‘80s. Despite a few odd stylistic tics, such as printing interview subjects’ names first in Cyrillic and then in English, Polsky resists the urge to wallow in communist kitsch, like the “North Korea is so cool” tone of several recent documentaries about the hermit kingdom. He’s more concerned with illuminating the differences between  the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Fetisov learned to play hockey well, but his training came at the cost of a private life. (Granted, this may be the universal price of fame and success.) When he and his Russian peers were finally allowed to play in the NHL, Red Army doesn’t present this as an unmitigated triumph. While acknowledging the human cost of communism, it also depicts their culture shock, being attacked by North American players and the media, and having difficulty adjusting to a more individualistic playing style. I’m not sure what Fetisov’s exact present-day politics are, but he accepted a post from Putin as Minister of Sport. Now that American-Russian tensions are flaring up again, this reminder of the last Cold War feels more  contemporary—and painful—than it might have five years ago: Russia is once again becoming the Other, a convenient source of villains for action movies and TV shows.  

If Red Army offers a relatively mellow look at the damage wrought by the Cold War, the much-awaited The Look of Silence serves up a full, unblinking look at the horrors committed in the name of anti-communism. If it goes down somewhat easier than its abrasive and deeply disturbing companion piece The Act of Killing, in which Oppenheimer had  murderers reenact their crimes on film, that’s because it adds some warmth and humanity to the mix—protagonist Adi, an optician, is shown interacting with his family. However, Adi’s elder bother was murdered in the 1965 massacre of a million Indonesian “communists,” and Adi lives in a village alongside his killers, who were never punished and in fact remain free today. The film’s methods are deceptively simple: Oppenheimer shows Adi outtakes from The Act of Killing, which gradually evolve into discussions of his brother’s death, on a video monitor while he watches silently, and then  and goes about his daily life, which includes making glasses for the surviving killers from 1965 and interviewing them about the bad old days. Adi seems to be the only Indonesian who wants to remember this period in the country’s history—or, at least, recall it accurately. In some respects, The Look of Silence feels like a response to the critics of The Act of Killing. Violence is never shown, just described, although its full awfulness may exceed what happens in The Act of Killing: several killers describe drinking human blood. People who find Oppenheimer’s films pornographic and exploitative may simply be uncomfortable with an NC-17 reality. But unlike The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence depicts an inspiring level of resistance to historical oblivion. 

South Korean director Jung Yoon-suk’s Non-Fiction Diary revolves around a group of serial killers called the Jijon Clan, but it takes in a wide swath of ‘90s Korean history and politics. The Jijon Clan were a gang of six youths who committed a series of horrific murders in 1993 and 1994; their crimes were so surreally awful that when one of their victims described them  to the police, they thought she was high on drugs. However, Non-Fiction Diarycontrasts the Clan’s murders, condemned by the whole of Korean society and quickly punished, with the collapses of a bridge and a department store shortly afterwards due to irresponsisble building methods, which actually killed far more people. Relying on period news clips (especially a lengthy talk show debate about the crisis in Korean morality) and interviews with cops, professors and a nun, Jung also lends a stylish touch to the grim proceedings. Non-Fiction Diary begins with still photos, and it then goes into a split-screen montage of some of the images that will follow. The Jijon Clan both hated and envied the wealthy; the first part of their three-line manifesto read “the rich shall be loathed,” yet they wanted to become millionaires. Non-Fiction Diary sees their crimes as an extreme manifestation of the amorality implicit in neo-liberal capitalism. At times, it comes dangerously close to making excuses for them because they weren’t rich, unlike the head of the Sampoong Department Store, whose fall killed more than 500 people. They got capital punishment, he got a slap on the wrist, despite bearing ultimate responsibility for his store’s collapse, as the film points out. However, Jung ultimately offers a range of perspectives on issues like the death penalty, told with a distanced touch, although he sometimes seems to be chafing at the constraints of his film’s form. 

The Iron Ministry opens with extreme close-ups of trains as disorienting and immersive as anything in Leviathan, the film that put Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab on the festival map. (Although Sniadecki is a graduate of the Lab, The Iron Ministry isn’t an official product of it.) Shot over three years on trains across China, The Iron Ministry is an experience in flux. Its constant  change mirrors that of the economic and social change sweeping the  nation it depicts. Sniadecki initially opts for a purely sensual experience; 20 minutes pass before the first subtitle appears. It’s not edited to look seamless—Sniadecki clearly cut together numerous train rides and makes no attempt to smooth over the vehicles’ different looks. Taking a train in China seems a lot like riding on Amtrak 20 years ago, when they routinely over-booked trains and cigarette smoking was still allowed. Yet for every moment of filth Sniadecki shows, there’s an image of beauty or grace to counter it. He also delves into Chinese politics, interviewing passengers on  subjects like the role of Islam in Chinese life, pollution and possible progress towards democracy. His presence is subtly but definitely felt. Sniadecki has crafted a film that can stand proudly along the best recent Chinese-made documentaries. 

CITIZENFOUR director Laura Poitras was the first journalist to become Edward Snowden’s regular correspondent. (Technically, her film is part of the NYFF’s main slate, not its documentary sidebar.) As an opening card reveals, she was also put on a U.S. government watch list after making her first film and is subject to constant harassment at American airports. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled by her respectful treatment of Snowden here. While the film starts off as a wide-ranging depiction of issues around privacy and surveillance, it settles into a Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden and Glenn Greenwald (then a columnist for The Guardian) for its central hour, which depicts the meeting that led to the public revelations about the NSA’s out-of-control spying. At first, the film seemed strangely impersonal. Poitras uses the first person in on-screen text and reproduces E-mail and chat sessions with Snowden. Yet she never appears in the image  herself for more than an instant. I initially thought that a film which dealt more directly with her personal struggles with the U.S. government would bring home the dangers of the NSA’s activities more forcefully. But ultimately, the film she did make, which often resembles an elegantly shot spy thriller, does deliver the justified paranoia of Snowden and Greenwald’s message effectively. It also does a lot to humanize a man who’s too often been demonized as a traitor; the Snowden depicted in CITIZENFOUR is a likable, friendly guy who tried to do the right thing, acted on the fly and  got caught up in a world drama  that overtook him. Poitras is on his side, certainly, but her depiction is believable. 

The relationship of form and content in political cinema has been debated since the late ‘60s, when Cahiers du Cinéma declared all films more conventional than Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Marie Straub’s work reactionary. I don’t want to jump on that bandwagon here, particularly when a film like Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War, although stylistically bland, has managed to accomplish real political goals in  changing the way the military prosecutes sexual assault. Nevertheless, there’s something disheartening about the way Non-Fiction Diary conveys an explicitly anti-capitalist message mostly through the usual assemblage of interviews and archival footage, which threatens to collapse into formula. 

However, documentaries like The Look of Silence and The Iron Ministryseem to point the way forward. Oppenheimer’s touch in The Look of Silenceis a subtle one; his voice is sometimes heard, and interview subjects occasionally refer to him, often in an unflattering light. Adi is definitely not just a stand-in for Oppenheimer, and he’s a strong enough presence to remind one that The Look of Silence really is a collaboration with Indonesian filmmakers, including a co-director who can only be billed as “Anonymous.” The Iron Ministry is less politically inflammatory than Oppenheimer’s films, but it synthesizes several documentary traditions in an inventive manner. If Americans continue to make films about other cultures - or our own, for that matter - it seems best to  leave traces of our own subjectivity in the frame, as The Look of Silence and The Iron Ministrydo, and honestly acknowledge our own perspective’s role in shaping the films we make.

Steven Erickson is a writer and filmmaker based in New York. He has published in newspapers and websites across America, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, The Atlantic, Salon, indieWIRE, The Nashville Scene, Studio Daily and many others. His most recent film is the 2009 shortSquawk.

Originally published in Indiewire Blog, October 14, 2014 ->


'Last Hijack' Goes Home with a Somali Pirate

In 2009 there was a swarm of news reports about piracy off the coast of Africa. I got intrigued by the subject because of the thrilling hijack stories, but almost immediately focused on the Somali side of it. The pictures of the tiny skiff next to the immense sea tankers simply wouldn’t leave me.

We in the Western world always see Somali pirates as “the enemy,” and for valid reasons. But when I started to read about them, the picture got more nuanced. Why did all the pirates come from this particular country, when there are many other poor countries with access to the sea? Who are these robbers? What motivated them to risk their lives? 

Somali is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. There is a lack of education, healthcare, infrastructure – all the hallmarks of a dependable government. After the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, the nation’s waters were rapidly exploited through the foreign depletion of fisheries and dumping of toxic wastes. These events sparked the initial piracy. 

A practice that began in self-defense has, however, transformed into an immensely profitable piracy industry.

It was hard to find a pirate who was willing to share his life with us. We collaborated with a researcher, a talented Somali journalist. We searched for about 18 months. Most pirates dream of leaving Somalia, moving to Kenya or the UK. They might be arrested in those countries if they openly discussed their activities in a film.

As a female director, I became very curious when I heard about the rise of a few women pirates in Somalia. This seemed like such a powerful image in a pre-dominantly male world. Our researcher managed to find and interview many of them.

But after translating the interviews carefully, it became clear these female pirates were not the real deal. One woman said to another just before the interview started, “I will play a pirate who just got divorced,” and her friend added, “Then I will be the pirate who has two children.” Jamal, our researcher, found out that many of the pirates who had been on American TV news shows were actually fake pirates. 

We realized that in a country where poverty rules, everyone will try to make a little bit of cash, even if that means pretending to be a pirate for camera crews.

Then our researcher found Mohamed, an independent pirate, who has done a number of successful and failed hijacks over the years. He told us that he has no ambition to leave Somalia, since it is his home country. Initially, we saw Mohamed and his quest for one last hijack as the center of the film, but the better we got to know him and his family, the more intrigued we became about the family’s dynamics, the frustrations of his father, the disappointments of his mother, and the relationship between Mohamed and his fiancée Muna. I felt immediately that this was the story I wanted to tell.

For Somali women, pirates are a possible escape from a life afflicted by violence, poverty, and lawlessness. It’s said that pirates marry the prettiest girls. But marrying a pirate doesn’t provide any real security for these women. They get easily sidelined for a younger, more attractive woman. 

Mohamed told us he divorced his last wife through text; he has been married four times already. And he has nine children with his ex-wives, whom he all abandoned. His parents take care of his children. Muna, Mohamed’s fiancée, doesn’t support piracy, and will not accept that Mohamed wants to set up another hijack. She married him anyway, received the dowry, but left after a couple of weeks.

The story I ended up telling about pirate life is one about family, chronicled in Last Hijack, co-directed by Tommy Pallotta. It is so far the only pirate film to date actually shot in Somalia, and includes animated sequences to explore Mohamed’s memories, dreams and fears from his point of view. 

Last Hijack made its theatrical debut on October 3 and is currently playing in theaters. It is also available on VOD platforms including Amazon Instant Video, Comcast, Google Play, iTunes, Time Warner Cable, Sony PlayStation, Vimeo On Demand, Vudu and XBOX Video.

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The rockets and missiles fly, from Israel into Gaza, from Gaza into Israel. It is a conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours, which has flared since the very founding of the Jewish state in 1948. Why does this particular conflict, above all others, attract the attention it does?

Ghosts of Aleppo (Full Length)

Aleppo is Syria’s largest metropolitan area and a millennia-old commercial capital. Today, however, it is a relative ghost town, threatened by regime bombing from the air and a militant offensive on the ground. For two weeks over the summer, VICE News embedded with the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad on one front and Islamic State militants on another. From secret tunnels beneath the ancient city to threatened frontline outposts in Aleppo’s ruined medieval center, VICE News followed the Islamic Front as they battled to retain control of the capital of the Syrian revolution against overwhelming odds.