Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish discusses award-winning Tentmakers of Cairo
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Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish discusses award-winning Tentmakers of Cairo

While it may seem like a long way from the colourful markets of Egypt's capital to a movie theatre in the ACT, a local filmmaker bridges the distance with his camera and artistic vision.

Kim Beamish shot, produced and directed The Tentmakers of Cairo, an award-winning documentary which has its Australian premiere at the Canberra International Film Festival.

Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish, who directed The Tentmakers of Cairo.

Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish, who directed The Tentmakers of Cairo.Credit:Melissa Adams

The work captures the turbulent period from the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule to Abdel Fattah Al Sisi's election to power in June 2014.

Beamish travelled to the largest city in the Middle East with his wife Bridget Collier, who had taken up a job in the area.

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Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish, who directed The Tentmakers of Cairo.

Canberra filmmaker Kim Beamish, who directed The Tentmakers of Cairo.Credit:Melissa Adams

With them were their two young children, Abi (now 7) and Tom, who was born on the day of the revolution, January 25, 2011.

"I got there just in time for it to start getting interesting," Beamish says.

"I'd always gone over with the intention of doing something about the revolution but I didn't know what."

When he met textile artist Jenny Bowker through her husband Robert (Bob) Bowker, a former ambassador to the region, she offered to introduce him to the tentmakers.

"She took me to meet them; it was basically love at first sight, I suppose," Beamish says.

As a filmmaker, he knew it was all about "access, access, access" to potential sources.

He had his protagonists: the five craftsmen who practise their unique and detailed art form, which sees them stitching the interior panels of tents by hand.

Over three years, he created an intimate portrait of their world, using the artisans' everyday experiences to illustrate the larger political and cultural upheavals.

"I'd always gone over with the intention of doing something about the revolution but I didn't know what."

Kim Beamish

"I didn't know how it was going to swing," Beamish says.

"The story told itself in terms of Egyptians doing Egyptian things and it just kind of rolled along.

"All they talked about was politics and it wasn't too hard to get them talking."

The Tentmakers of Cairo won the 2015 Margaret Mead Filmmaker Award as well as an accolade at this year's Visions du Reel in Switzerland.

An earlier documentary, Just Punishment, about Van Nguyen's execution, helped to change the mandatory sentencing laws in Singapore.

On Wednesday, November 11, Beamish will introduce the premiere at the National Film and Sound Archive and answers questions after the screening, presented in association with the University of Canberra, where he lectures.

Visit www.ciff.com.au for information about the festival.

Mary Lynn is a reporter for the Canberra Times and Chronicle

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