Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 March - 4 April 2012
Issue No. 1091
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A piece of the action at Cinema Gate

Sarah Mourad learns about an aspiring private cinema academy in Cairo

Click to view caption
Abdel-Aziz with Cinema Gate students

Cairo's new academy for cinema studies, Cinema Gate, was founded by cinematographer Kamal Abdel-Aziz in cooperation with the Modern Sciences and Arts University in Cairo (MSA).

Abdel-Aziz is a prominent figure in Egyptian cinema and is very well known as a cinematographer. He has worked in the field since the 1980s, initially it was on documentaries but since 1990 he has focused on the cinema. His first film was Supermarket directed by Mohamed Khan. He later worked on various TV series and music videos, and in 1994 he had a spell as a theatre lighting designer in the plays Al-'Ashiq (The Lover) and Al-Khadim al-Akhras (The Dumbwaiter).

Abdel-Aziz's work has been viewed at international documentary festivals in Morocco, the United States, Denmark and Sweden. Between 2008 and 2010, he worked on producing and directing various documentaries including The Burning of the Cairo Opera House, which was shown at the Seventh Al-Jazeera Documentary Festival, the Alexandria Film Festival and the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival.

Abdel-Aziz formulated the idea of an academy as a means of sharing his knowledge of the cinema with the new generation. He contacted Amr El-Degwi, son of the MSA's owner with a proposition to create such an academy within the university to teach all areas of cinema including directing, acting, editing and cinematography.

Many prominent figures in cinema and TV in Egypt have shared their knowledge with students of Cinema Gate and have taught them a great deal. Among them are cinematographer Ramses Marzouk, directors Samir Seif and Hani Lasheen, film editor Youssef El-Malakh, acting coach Sherif Agwa and body language coach Atef Awad.

Among the many guest speakers on the staff are director Mohamed Khan, producers Hussein El-Qala and Hani Guirguis Fawzi, and Ahmed Mahfouz, who is director of Al-Jazeera's Documentary Channel.

"I believe it's very important to have such important filmmakers on our staff who have been in the field for decades," Abdel-Aziz said. "It's more beneficial than books, for instance, since they offer a much closer look on the information and an up-close and personal training."

The study period at the academy lasts for three months. In the first month, students get a general outlook on all the aspects of cinema (directing, editing, acting, and cinematography). For the next two months they pick a specialisation of their choice. At the end of three months of intense work they are required to produce a short film of five to 10 minutes of their own. While each pursues his own field of study or area of interest, they are expected to co-operate with one another.

"Students have produced 12 short film projects so far, and I'm very proud of their work. It's very pleasing, especially for amateurs like themselves, many of whom have never studied or worked in film before," Abdel-Aziz said.

An important point is that despite the fact that the academy is located inside MSA and in cooperation with it, and one does not have to be an MSA student or graduate to be part of this academy. "Anyone interested in studying at Cinema Gate is welcome. Our main target is giving knowledge to those who are interested in cinema and want to learn."

This is not just a workshop for learning about cinema; students end their three-month studies with a diploma that is verified by the Canadian Chamber, and this will help students to work and study abroad.

More branches of cinema are to be studied In the next class at the academy, including scriptwriting, art criticism, animation and set design. "We are also working on opening a branch of Cinema Gate in Dubai, which professors and guest speakers from the Hollywood Academy and various other international film-making teaching bodies will be part of," Abdel-Aziz said. He added that he was currently working on a deal with important cinema figures worldwide to be guest speakers for the next academic term in Cairo.

All kind of equipment needed by students is available. "We've bought the latest high definition cameras and computers with the latest editing programmes. Multiple studios and plateaus on campus are all available for their use," Abdel-Aziz added with pride.

Ahmed El-Saeed, a sophomore who studied at Cinema Gate, said his main interest was acting. He had no professional knowledge about acting or cinema before entering the academy. "I didn't just learn acting, I also learnt cinematography and lighting, how to write a script, and directing. That was very important and cut a long way shorter for me," he said.

Reem Farid, a graduate student at the MSA; said her passion was acting, but she had worked on two film projects at the academy, one as a cinematographer and the other as a director. "I meant to work in other fields, since I believe it is very important to know about different fields of cinema even if acting is the one I favour. And I really benefited from learning it all. Those were very important experiences for me," she said.

Another sophomore, Khaled Mohamed, said he did not just benefit from studying at Cinema Gate on the professional or cinematic level, but also on the personal level. "I worked on two films as an actor," he said. "That was an important experience for me, since I have wanted to bean actor since I was 11. So it's finally a dream in the process of coming true."

Adham Zahran said his main interests were cinematography and directing. "I've learnt a lot ,especially regarding lighting and other aspects of cinematography and directing that I never knew about." Zahran said he worked as a director and co-editor and was a cinematographer for six projects. "I am planning to keep on studying both cinematography and directing abroad, and I hope eventually to make it my future career," he added.

Cinema Gate's new term will commence soon. The academy is located on the MSA University Campus in Dokki, Cairo.

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