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Meet the Men Who Stitch Cairo’s Colorful Tents in This New Doc

The film showcases the highly skilled labor of these nimble-fingered artists.

In the post-industrial world we live in, handmade craftsmanship has fallen by the wayside, replaced by the standardized wares of factory production. But the art of khaimiya, or tent-making, is kept alive in a district of Cairo where nimble-fingered artisans spend most of the day stitching colorful, intricate patterns on the beautiful tents that dot the city’s landscape. Kim Beamish, a documentarian who arrived in Egypt in the midst of the 2011 uprising hoping to record some of the revoutionary action, instead produced this dynamic film that captures the work of Cairo’s tentmakers in vibrant color. The Tentmakers of Cairo documents the everyday lives of these unrecognized artists, as they struggle to maintain normalcy in the tumult of political and social upheaval.

“I found the street to be this microcosm of what was happening throughout Egypt, especially Cairo,” Beamish told the Arabist. “Rumour and mis-information would blow through the street like small dust storms: You could almost see it start at one end of the street and then finish up at the other end. Everyone in the street knows everyone else; they have all grown up together. In the end it is exactly as you say, a portrait of neighborhood.”

The film follows tentmakers Hosam, his brother Ekramy, and Hany and Tarek and their lives in the aftermath of Mubarak’s rule. The extreme political context in which they are situated bleeds through their narratives, through radio announcements, TV news stories, and conversations overheard in the shop. These men side passionately with Sisi’s regime (one of them is even filmed at a rally for the president general), and vehemently lambast the Muslim Brotherhood—however, these political beliefs appear to largely stem from a desire for stability and order, rather than a distaste for revolution.

From the trailer, Tentmakers of Cairo appears to be an intimate portrayal of a humble community that’s struggling to contend not just with domestic politics but with globalization as well. In Egypt and in neighboring countries, people occupy these tents to celebrate weddings, to mourn the dead, and to merely celebrate what there is left to celebrate. But they’ve fallen out of fashion, and the tentmakers must find some way to sustain their artform in the face of a changing world.

Check out the trailer here.

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