‘The Tentmakers of Chareh el Khiamiah’ is a feature length documentary with unprecedented access to a small Egyptian community located in the heart of Old Islamic Cairo. The story spans three turbulent years, from Egypt’s 25th January 2011 revolution through to the June 2014 election of coup leader Abdel Fatah el Sisi as President of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
A verite documentary in the style of such filmmakers as Kim Longinotto (Divorce Iranian Style, Shinjuku Boys, and Sisters in Law) and Abbas Kiarostami (Ten, Close Up, and Life and Nothing More), ‘The Tentmakers of Chareh el Khiamiah’ is a dramatic tale of survival set in a small covered market known as Chareh el Khiamiah, the street of the Tentmakers.
Our heroes, four men aged between 35-50 years old, are all talented craftsmen who practice the detailed art form of tentmaking, a uniquely Egyptian craft dating back to the Pharaohs which involves the hand-stitching of the interiors of tents, or in its more modern – and tourist-friendly – incarnation, wall-hangings and cushion covers.
After 18 days of unrest in early 2011, amidst chants for “Bread, Freedom and Justice”, Hosam, his brother Ekramy, and stitchers Hany and Tarek all find themselves thrown into an unknown and unpredictable world as President Mubarak’s 40 year rule is brought to an end.
However, rejoicing and celebrations soon turn to conflict and our small street, a microcosm of Egyptian society, is infiltrated by never-ending propaganda, rumors and paranoia which constantly blares from television sets in each and every shop.
Survival is no longer about the need of the market as a whole, but about each individual. Soon our heroes find themselves pitted against each other, as shops are burnt to the ground, traditions walked away from and poverty become more and more real.
With the rise of Egypt’s first freely elected President, Mohamed Morsi, the coup which would bring about his downfall and the ultimate election of Abdel Fatah el Sisi as Egypt’s most recent saviour, each of our characters find themselves personally challenged by the circumstances facing the nation.
Ultimately our heroes become convinced that a return to the past with the election of the former military leader Sisi, will be the only way to return to prosperity, regardless of the threat to liberty and freedom – once the core aims of the 2011 revolution.
My motivation is to tell the story behind the revolution and the ongoing political unrest within Egypt. To be able to tell a story about the impact the ongoing instability is having on the day to day lives of average Egyptian people.
My goal is to start a conversation and present a portrait of the social, political and economic issues facing a small community in Old Islamic Cairo. In doing so, I seek to better represent the impact of social upheaval and political change on such communities and how the demands of Egypt’s revolution – freedom, rights and bread - have failed to eventuate, leaving many calling for a return to the security of the past.
I have spent two years filming these people, having been welcomed into their shops, workshops and homes. These men consider me a part of their families and the community that surrounds them has also let me in, protecting me when necessary. By focusing on the lives of the Tentmakers, I am able to examine the impact these events have had on a small community.
I owe it to these people to tell an honest story of what life in Egypt is like away from the ongoing clashes between the police and the military on the one hand, and the protestors on the other. Many within Egypt are tired and worn down. It has been three years of vague promises and commitments and life within the nation has only become more expensive and harder. Poverty is becoming a reality for many who had been fighting hard to prevent it.
For me, this is a film about the communities and people who deal directly with the consequences of the actions of others. These actions, on both sides, are often proclaimed to be for the great people of Egypt and yet not much changes for these great people.
Kim Beamish is an Australian filmmaker with more than ten years experience particularly in documentary filmmaking. After completing a Post Graduate Degree in Film and Television (Documentary) at the Victorian College of the Arts, Film and Television School Kim went on to work with many of the Australian film industries now big names as well as producing and directing content which has aired on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) and on SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) in Australia. Kim has also spent many years volunteering, working for and as a board member of OPEN CHANNEL in Melbourne, Australia where he wrote and taught a Certificate IV course in Documentary Production and Direction.
Working with Shannon Owen and Liz Burke, Kim produced and directed the film 'Just Punishment' about Van Nguyen who had been arrested in possession of heroin in Singapores Changi airport. The film spent three years following Van's case for appeal through the lives of his closest friends, lawyers and his mother Kim Nguyen, or as she would call herself after meeting Kim, Kim One.
Most recently Kim has moved from Australia with his family to Cairo, Egypt and is now working almost solely on this production, The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah, which he is both producing and directing as well as working as camera op, sound recordist and editor, at least for the moment.