Courtesy of the Artist
Courtesy of the Artist

Tamer El Said founded Zero Production in 2007 to produce independent films. He is also a founder of Cimatheque – Alternative Film Centre in Egypt, a multi-purpose space that provides facilities, training and programming for the independent filmmaking community. His first feature length film, In the Last Days of the City, was premiered in the Berlinale 2016 where it received the Caligari Film Prize. El Said also has mentored workshops, related to his practice as a filmmaker, in many international film and art spaces including, among others, Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London, School of the Art Institute in Chicago (SAIC), and Silent Green in Berlin.

Courtesy of the Cimatheque – Alternative Film Center in Cairo
Courtesy of the Cimatheque – Alternative Film Center in Cairo

Peripheral Vision*

*all that is visible to the eye outside the central area of focus.
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“Dear Mr. El Said,

We met briefly in Dresden last spring at the HKW Academy where you spoke about your experience with the Cairo Cimatheque.

[…]

As we prepare the program for our next festival, which will be held July 14-19 2020, your talk, and the Cimatheque, came to mind. We’d like to invite you – and possibly a representative from the Arsenal Institute in Berlin – to discuss your experience with the Cimatheque archive. Our 2020 theme, Tourism, has a special resonance in Greece and Egypt; if you are interested and available, we’d like to organize a few screenings and perhaps a workshop around a relevant topic to be decided together.

I’ll be happy to provide further details and continue the conversation.

My very best from Athens,

Jacob”

That was the mail I received from Jacob Moe, co-founder of the Syros International Film Festival, on December 16, 2019. In early January 2020, Jacob and I had a phone conversation that started the journey of Peripheral Vision, a title that SIFF suggested a few months later. In the beginning we were aiming to do a 3-4 days’ workshop during the 2020 edition of SIFF but this plan was soon canceled due to Covid-19 pandemic. During the spring of 2021, Jacob and I worked on a new concept for the workshop and we decided to hold it online over a 9 months period (from October 2020 to July 2021). The idea was to build the workshop curriculum with the participants and adapt the process to suit the needs of their work.

On October 5, 2020, we had our first online session with eleven participants (seven individual artists/filmmakers and two collectives). Since this date and through the following nine months, we had to find our way through a pool of archival audiovisual material from Egypt and Greece. Looking at this material allowed us to visit new places and encounter new people, while the rules of traveling, walking down the streets, meeting individuals and using the public space were changing around us every day. With all the limitations and opportunities of the online meetings, we needed to explore collective dynamics that could balance between creating a momentum to move forward together as a group, and providing the space and time needed to individually develop each project.

Should we archive the workshop sessions? This initial question later started an endless barrage of questions that confronted us during this long journey. If yes, Who owns this archive? Who can use this footage? While using archival material that doesn’t belong to us, do we agree that others are free to use our image? Who should give the consent? To whom does the image belong? Where are the boundaries between what is public and what is personal in the archive? How can we build our code of ethics when we use the archival footage? When we work with an archival material that doesn’t belong to us, how can we explore the original intention of the image? Should we respect this original intention or should we give ourselves the freedom to invent a new one? What’s our position towards the maker of the original image? How to find our personal stories in an image that doesn’t belong to us? How to connect with times we didn’t live, people we never met and places we didn’t visit? Are we looking at the past, the present, or the future in this archive? These and dozens of other questions kept hammering our heads for many months.

In fact, most of our questions remained unanswered, but going through these discussions allowed us to deeply dig into what is behind archival material, explore other dimensions that brought us closer to real life stories, recreate times and places, and widen our vision to see outside the central area of focus.

––– Tamer El Said