Bringing Behna’s cinema heritage back to life

The focus of the practical element of the IPP is a 12-bedroom apartment owned by Behna films. The company was one of the biggest production companies in the Middle-East between 1932 and 1962, and they used the apartment as the hub of their work. The apartment has not been in use since the 1960s, which both allows for artistic creativity and also brings a challenge of 50 years of dust.

The owner of the apartment is Basile Behna, who is donating the apartment to Gudran, our partner organisation. They plan to transform it into a hub for independent cinema, a museum, a venue for film screenings and other visual-arts activities.

The role of Gudran and the International People’s Project (IPP) is to prepare the apartment for a soft opening by the end of the IPP. We will transform long-forgotten rooms into spaces of expression. So far we have removed the plaster from the corridor walls and sanded around half of the rooms, to reveal how the apartment looked in it’s heyday. The work consisted of a lot of hammering and chiseling, scraping and sanding, sweeping and cleaning. The apartment now looks dramatically different to the day we walked in, and believe with this level of process we will have it complete with the soft opening.

The Behna Apartment after the first day of work

The Behna Apartment after the first day of work

 Alongside this, we have discovered a large amount of old material from the production company. This ranges from business cards, to paintings, old movie posters, set designs, official documents and artistic sketches. Though Gudran was aware of some of this material, we never expected to find this valuable material that can be used for the museum.

Cleaning Behna's old film posters

Cleaning Behna’s old film posters

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Documents showing details on the production of a film

This project so far has not only been fun, it has also been a solid start of the hopefully long-lasting relationship between CISV Egypt and Gudran, who have been supportive, excited and very complementary of the energy and work of the IPP participants. With five more days to work on the apartment, we are looking forward to seeing the final result of the apartment and our work.

By Jess Wanless and Camilla Wetzel

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Meeting Gudran then Egyptian Cinema 101

On the afternoon the 29th we were meeting reality, or in other words: meeting the places we are going to work. After a delicious lunch we were divided in 3 groups and each group set out to meet the different people and places from our project. It was an amazing feeling to be out between cars, smells, noises and many eyes staring our way and us staring right back. So many new things to see and remember walking from one place to another.

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Volunteers meet Abdallah in the Gudran office

First stop was the Gudran Office where Abdallah Daif was welcoming us in a very tall blue door. Adballah showed to be a great story teller and as interested in us as we in him. In the office, covered with many interesting posters, pictures and wall paintings, Abdallah explained about the function of the office, the beginning of the organization, how to fundraise and how the organization works with a very flat structure without titles for anyone. Abdallah explained how working in Gudran is about working with your passion and sharing our passion with other people.

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Volunteers meet Sameh and Am Arabi in El-Hara

You can never know what to expect walking on the street in Alexandria, which we definitely experienced finding 30 men praying on the street on a blanket between cars and food stalls, because the mosque was full. Walking away from the praying men and noisy street down a small alley, the atmosphere immediately changed and we could all feel that this was a special place. The walls had paintings and the narrow street was clean. In the end of the alley, called El Hara, we found Sameh from Gudran, an old man; Am Arabi and a beautiful old kiosk full of things. This alley had the most amazing story of a friendship between Sameh El-Halawany and Am Arabi, his kiosk for repairing things, a small local library and on top of that many fights with the government to keep the place. Being in the Alley, we realized how much community is a big part of the Gudran Projects and how the change for one man can be a change for a whole community.

Aliaa tells us about Dokkan and how Gudran started

Aliaa tells us about Dokkan and how Gudran started

Third stop was El Dokkan and meeting Aliaa El-Gereidy, a very passionate and laid back woman. Aliaa was one of the friends starting Gudran and she explained us a lot about how to start up projects in different communities. How the process of becoming friends with the surrounding neighborhood is so important, not only to be accepted but in many was also to be able to count on support from the people. Aliaa emphasized how El Dokkan is a good example of taking art to the street and how many exhibitions and open workshops are held in the small alley and is thereby supported by and supporting the community in where it is placed.

El Cabina, one of Gudran's recycled spaces

El Cabina, one of Gudran’s recycled spaces

Last stop was the long waited El Cabina, a beautifully restored old air-conditioning house for the next door cinema. El Cabina is now a place for showing movies, a music studio and a cultural hang-out place (and where we are going to have our New Years party!). We had a good wrap up by one of the volunteers Khaled and an overview of what we had experienced the last couple of hours. We were now very ready and excited to get started on the different projects!

At night after dinner we had Mamoon Azmy come by to do a workshop on Egyptian Cinema. We saw the development of Egyptian cinema with clips from the first cartoon, Mish Mish, musicals, dance movies, short movies and trailers of new movies. We discussed how the independent cinema scene is a reaction to the commercialized era of movies as well as censorship and the effect of and on the revolution. The workshop by Mamoon created a great perspective by putting our project into Egyptian reality.

By Tess Thuroe – Denmark