Founders of FMD Israa Mahmoud Ibrahim and Farah el-Rafei, sixth and seventh from the left standing row, at the launch - FMD website
CAIRO - 6 March 2022: It was about time in 2019 that an Egyptian design festival is launched, given the country’s long history of design, architecture, and filmmaking. After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, the second edition of Film My Design (FMD), the first festival of its kind in Egypt and MENA, kicked off in January, presenting an opportunity for designers, architects, and filmmakers in the region to collaborate, inspire, receive training, and win prizes. Most importantly, it is an opportunity for them to be seen by the public.
Two Egyptian young women, Farah el-Rafei and Israa Mahmoud Ibrahim, who live in UAE and finally took the step after being exposed to major design events such as Milano Design Film Festival, Art Dubai, and Venice Bienalle, realized that few Egyptians participated in them, and few abroad knew of the buzzing and rich design and filmmaking scenes in their homeland. However, there was hardly a common ground between designers and filmmakers in Egypt.
“We are raising awareness on what design is through film, so we talk about the stages of the design. For someone who has no background in design or architecture to watch an actual movie, not just a documentary… we can tell the story in different genres: feature films, short or long, animation, or visual art films. We are exploring different genres to tell the story in a different and exciting way,” said Rafei, cofounder of FMD.
“We target everyone, not just the professionals. We want to tell the story of a design in a different medium, which is film,” she added.
The end product for an architect, for example, may be impressive to people, but the process is definitely as valued to the architect as the building. Showcasing that process in a film would mean a lot to the community and would allow those interested to further appreciate the work.
The same applies to filmmakers. Their only chance does not have to be in a drama or a movie or a T.V. show. The more the festivals and competitions inviting for their creative work, the better.
This year, the U.S. embassy facilitated the participation of Kyle Bergman, the founder of New York-based Architecture and Design Film Festival, who contributed with films, talks, and workshops. During the launch of FMD, he said not a single Egyptian film has applied to be selected for Architecture and Design Film Festival, adding that he hopes FMD will entrench the idea among Egyptian creatives so more Egyptian films are seen at international design festivals.
“We celebrate this partnership that will unfold inspiring films and conversations from the U.S. to Egypt… Humans are really so much more similar than they are different, so much more connected and so much more the same,” Bergman said during the launch.
Meet the Founders of Film My Design
Rafei studied design management in the American University of Sharjah and worked with Art Dubai, one of the biggest art festivals worldwide, and now works as senior exhibition coordinator at the UAE pavilion at Venice Bienally. Meanwhile, Ibrahim did her M.A. in design in Italy and worked at Milano Design Film Festival. Their connections have greatly benefitted Egypt’s FMD; several universities in Egypt and beyond want to integrate design and filmmaking in their education and have contacted FMD to show their films. Other entities have said they want to see Egyptian films on certain subjects and others said they want general design films, according to the founders.
Guests have also been excited when contacted by FMD to contribute to an Egyptian festival, such as Wayne Thomas, a production designer from the U.S. who did the production designs of Oscar-winning movies Cinderella Man, Beautiful Mind, and Hidden Figures. From Egypt, Amr Aransa, the furniture design manager at Pinocchio, and Karim Shabaan, a director and cocreator, also delivered workshops to mentor young creatives.
Ibrahim recalled that in 2016, Dubai Design Week extended the time for the Egyptian pavilion, which was titled “Cairo Now: City Incomplete,” for an entire week over the tremendous amount of talent it exhibited. That is when the idea hit, but the two women were disappointed that there was not enough information about Egyptian designers on the internet, and no platform for them despite the amount and number of talents in the country. To found FMD, they had to follow word of mouth, meet designers in person, and use their network of connections to even find the relevant people.
Rafei and Ibrahim made their own film in 2017 to explain their idea and how filmmaking and design meet to show history and a human story and partnered with Milano Design Film Festival in 2019 to further illustrate the point of design festivals.
Several programs and activities are offered by FMD, including Emerging Local Talents, a program for young filmmakers and designers, which alone resulted in four films.
Other FMD programs include Egyptian Design Stories, and Design at Trans Borders, which invited Architecture and Design Film Festival from the U.S. In addition to workshops and panel discussions, FMD also takes Egyptian films to be shown at international festivals and movie theaters.
“We were able to achieve the goal of the festival through films about design, workshops, conversations about innovation in a range of design fields, such as architecture, furniture, and crafts,” Ibrahim said during her opening speech.
How do design film festivals thrive?
To anticipate the future of FMD, Egypt Today asked Bergman how Architecture and Design Film Festival, which he founded in 2009, kept going. Today, more than 350 films go through the selection process of the festival.
“I didn't realize it was going to grow into something, but it did… There's a great appetite for people out there, so not just design professionals,” Bergman said, highlighting that a design film needs to have both a human and a design story to appeal to everybody.
“Film My design is a very positive opportunity for both local designers and international designers. It's inspiring as someone who's been doing this a long time to see new films of young people who just started, often young creative designers and so much good energy out there,” he added.
Bergman highlighted the “democratization of filmmaking,” where one could make a film using an iPhone, that more design film festivals are founded in different parts of the world, and that documentaries are becoming more popular.
Nine films participated in the first edition, four of which were Italian, as the biggest partner was Milano Design Film Festival. More than 30 films were in the 2022 edition, around 14 of which were Egyptian, and the rest were international, proving the huge niche the festival is filling in the Egyptian creative scene.
In the opening speech of FMD, U.S. ambassador Jonathan R. Cohen said “the festival will explore the relationship between cities and spaces and the people who live in them. It will also delve into sustainability and climate change and will encourage audiences to reimagine the use of public and private spaces and cultural heritage sites.”
“We also want to showcase the inspiring accomplishments of women’s ideas in architecture, planning and landscape architecture from Egypt and from around the world to underscore the dividends that come from investment in equality, diversity, and inclusivity,” Cohen added.
The founders thanked the British council, the Italian Cultural Institute, the Japan Foundation, the Austrian Cultural Forum, the Swiss embassy, and the U.S. embassy for sponsoring and FMD 2022.
The U.S. embassy provided the biggest contribution this year with eight films from the U.S. as well as the participation of Bergman.
It is not the first time the U.S. embassy has facilitated workshops in Egypt delivered by U.S. design experts. In November 2018, Parsons School of Design professors John Bruce and Mark Randall delivered a five-day workshop to 15 participants of different backgrounds and professions at one table, helping each other with varied projects, most notably empowering women, children and youth, education, mobility, and using art to engage people in public space.
Architecture in Egypt
The collaboration of architects and filmmakers in Egypt can be astounding, given the various authentic types of architecture in the country, beginning from ancient Egyptian, Roman, Coptic, Islamic, and ending with European and modern. Today, Egyptian urban expansion is as big as ever, and so the timing of FMD is great.
“People are interested in design and especially a country like Egypt where design is so important. It’s in your history and your DNA. I mean, you have the most iconic buildings in the world from a design perspective,” Bergman said, urging Egyptian filmmakers to submit their work to Architecture and Design Film Festival, which accepts films with a length beginning from one minute.
He said films about the New Capital would be interesting, the pros and cons of that, and how and the speed at which older neighborhoods change.
“I think a strong city allows both for the historical stuff and the modern stuff to be brought in,” he said in an answer to Egypt Today’s question on architectural styles as Egypt embarks on a planned urban expansion all over the country.
He emphasized that the “international style” that is created to be placed anywhere in the world is not a solution because it does not consider the history.
“I believe you have to know where you're doing it and be respectful and mindful of the location… It doesn't look at the environment. It doesn't look at the culture,” Bergman said.
“That doesn't mean you can't do modern buildings, like, if you look at Italy, I think Italy does this very, very well. They have old ancient cities and sometimes they bring in modern buildings and maybe the material is different, but the scale is appropriate,” he explained.
As design festivals prospect Egyptian films on architecture, storytelling is the Egyptian creatives’ most powerful tool, according to Bergman, because it incorporates the emotional aspect.
“Storytelling is really one of the best ways to talk about architecture… as an architect, you're a storyteller. As a filmmaker, you're a storyteller. We all tell stories all the time. You tell stories by the clothing you picked, by how you present yourself in the world, by, you know, the color of the walls, the height of the lights. Those are all storytelling.”
In Egypt, design is perhaps known among the general public as a term used in certain fields such as fashion, décor, and graphics. But design is a huge concept that applies to everything in life, and so most everything can be designed and redesigned.
In the 1970s, a designer named Victor Papanek said design is not about creating objects but bringing together lots of people who are involved in a situation to understand the complexity, according to U.S. design professor John Bruce. Papanek wrote the book “Design for the Real World,” which was translated into some 24 languages and helped pave the way for design to be an approach.
That is how one designer may design a city, a building, an event, or a business project without being an engineer, a planner, or a holder of an MBA as long as he has the right team and is able to consider everything related to the product and how all factors impact each other.
Every design has a story. The founders of FMD call on designers and filmmakers to reach out to FMD website and social media platforms to discuss projects and apply for the festival in 2023, letting the world know the human and creative story behind the design.