The first film about Egypt's revolution is one of eleven movies from the Arab world captivating audiences at the Arabian Sights festival.
Now in its 16th year, the event is presented annually by the Washington DC International Film Festival.
This year's spotlight is on Egyptian cinema. The five featured films from Egypt cut across a variety of genres and subjects, including the American premiere of “18 Days,” about the January revolution.
The movie is a compilation of 10 short films by 10 different Egyptian directors.
Each short offers a unique perspective on the historic events that unfolded during the 18 days that changed the course of Egypt’s history.
Shirin Ghareeb, the festival’s director and programmer, says the 10 stories are all different from one another, reflecting the director’s unique view of the Egyptian revolution.
“It’s a mixture of narrative and fact and at the same time reflecting what was going on in the streets on those very days.”
Another highlight at the festival was “Microphone,” an award-winning docudrama offering a close look at the underground art and music scene in Alexandria, Egypt, just before the revolution.
Rock, hip hop and fusion are among the music genres portrayed in the film.
For the first time, Ghareeb says, young artists had a voice. “This is a part of the population that you never read about in newspapers, they’re never on the radio, they’re never interviewed on TV…you never hear their voice.”
However, "Microphone," which was made before the revolution, “gave them this outlet. But it was representative of a much wider group of young people that really represent the revolution,” she says.
In retrospect, according to lead actor and co-producer Khaled Abol Naga, the film was a precursor to the revolution. But that wasn't evident when the film was being made.
"When we made the movie, we had no idea. We didn't really call for a revolution," says Abol Naga. "We didn't even think there would be a revolution. The movie is called "Microphone" because it’s giving a microphone to be heard. We’re trying to get those voices out. It's an underground scene before the revolution.”
A new age
Abol Naga was active in the uprising which saw the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He says what was once underground is now above ground. And what was above ground, the regime, is now under.
"The power of the people is finally, is becoming equal or maybe even stronger than the people in power. Any group of people feeling they are discriminated against, they don't have rights, now they have the means, in this new age we're just entering, to actually have enough power to topple or challenge the people in power…and that's changing all over the world," he says.
Abol Naga acknowledges there are obstacles to overcome, especially Egypt's military.
"Yes, we have now a horrible, horrible military dictatorship. Two days ago, they actually detained bloggers, because? You can't imagine the audacity of the crime. They criticized the military. That's a crime now."
But Abol Naga and festival director Ghareeb are optimistic that freedom will ultimately prevail.
“The revolution has created a sense of freedom, and this freedom is going to be illustrated in the creativity that’s going to come out in the films and I think the impact is going to be huge," Ghareeb says.