The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

25 February 2011

Iman Kamel: Beit Sha'ar (Nomad's Home)

FESPACO 2011 WATCH: Official Competition: Documentary

Iman Kamel had this to say when I asked her about her experience making the film Beit Sha'ar

The film took almost five years to make. It had to do with the fact, that Sinai, where the Bedouins have settled, is a military area and filming is strictly prohibited. So when we finally decided to do the filming I went with a small camera, only with my camera women and worked on a very small scale. But when we arrived, we were confronted with the taboo of filming the Bedouin women. Although Selema my main protagonist agreed on the filming process, there was a lot of anxiety about our filming from the women around her, and we had to be very patient. The women and girls told me their stories but we did not film them.  And step by step, the veils fell. But filming was a very sensitive process, where my own story in the mirror of the encounter with Selema the Bedouin became increasingly clear. It is very evident that my story is also part of this film.

“So I sat on the sand and started to knit, and there is sand coming into it, and the warmth of the sun. I felt I am making a pullover, not from the wool alone, but from the whole Sinai. My sufi-wool house on my body, the whole desert Sinai in my house.” Iman Kamel

With the film Beit Sha’ar | Nomad’s Home, I pay homage to the Bedouin women of the Sinai Peninsula – many of whom I have come to know personally over the last twenty-five years. Though Bedouin society is very welcoming and protective to those in its circle, it does not easily assimilate strangers into its midst. Due to a long history of harassment by the Egyptian government and prejudice of the Egyptian people against them, Bedouins mistrust the Egyptian authorities and people. When I first became acquainted with the Bedouin as an Egyptian woman, I was enchanted by how much they welcomed me, allowing me to take an active part in their lives; and thus an enriching exchange between my life and their lives began. This long-lasting conversation became most profound with the tribeswoman Selema Gabaly and it is the contemplation of this interaction with Selema that forms the basis of the film.

As her family name indicates, Selema Gabaly was born in the mountains (‘Gabal’) of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. She was the first woman in her tribe to break with tradition by finishing her school education and then starting to work by managing a handicraft project involving almost every woman in her tribe, the Al Gabalya. These facts alone make her a pioneer for the rights of the Bedouin women in Sinai – rights she has had to fight for and defend almost her entire life since she was a young girl.

But I am not a Bedouin. I was born in the city of Cairo. I am an Egyptian filmmaker from a family of artists. A non-conformist character who left Cairo as a young woman seeking new horizons. Though I am now living in Berlin I am also content to call everywhere that I go ‘home’.

Connecting with Selema was an inevitability for me. Since the age of sixteen I had been visiting Sinai, and considered it to be my home in Egypt, far away from the chaotic city. When I first met Selema there in 2004 she was 32 years old. After that initial contact 5 years ago, I kept visiting her throughout the years - magnetized by her powerful character. As a result, a trustful friendship built itself up between us and she let me accompany her to her family house and on her tours to the Bedouin settlements in the region – places that are normally completely closed-off to outsiders.

In 2008, when I subsequently came to Sinai with my camerawoman to document Selema’s extraordinary life, her life had been again transformed: She had married a rural Egyptian man - outside of her own Bedouin community - and was in the process of defending her decision to marry in such a manner and to not be excluded from her community by breaking this taboo. At the time, her uncles and the patriarchs of the tribe were not accepting for her to marry outside of the tribe. They felt there was the danger of their families mating with an Egyptian; and they considered him as the “enemy”. Because of this, Selema was experiencing a lot of rejection from the other families and her handicraft project was at risk of falling apart…

But the bond built up over these years between all the women who had been working with Selema was stronger than the disgrace of the broken taboos, and soon the women began to stand behind Selema’s marriage and supported her work.

BEIT SHA’AR | NOMAD’S HOME is the story of how I met Selema; a document of the Bedouin women of her tribe and a poetic contemplation of how two women living totally different lives far apart can maintain a spiritual bond. Through this film I have come to discover that Selema and I share a lot in common. We are bound by one passion: that of being a nomad in today’s modern life, seeking to journey towards the unknown – yearning to be enriched by new discoveries.

Images Credit - Ute Freund

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