9th Cairo Video Festival: Butterflies Are Not Drawn To Light

In collaboration with the Cairo Video Festival, m-est.org acts as a site to archive and to share parts of the festival—as artist-driven initiatives, participating in mutual formats and methods, building our narratives together through the facilitation of the online medium remain important. As part of this conversation, we are publishing the below texts from their creative film criticism workshop, Butterflies aren’t drawn to light, conceived and facilitated by Mai Elwakil and Sara Elkamel in July-August 2019. 

Butterflies aren’t drawn to light set out to explore creative approaches to writing about short experimental film and video art, particularly when works are shown in the context of a festival or screening program. Over five sessions, participants collectively viewed films, and took part in activities that are meant to generate original written works, or seeds for longer texts. The five group sessions were followed by one-on-one meetings with participants as they developed their final texts in response to selected films.(To see the Arabic texts, please visit here.) (For the videos hosted by m-est.org, from the 8th Cairo Video Festival in 2017, see here.)

The texts are organized alphabetically by the last names of the authors.

Fu LE, still from MASS, 2019

Anticipating Demons, The Dancers Run Together and Apart, and Move in Flocks
—Nelly Elmehrek on Fu LE’s MASS, 2019

We should always breathe before we dance,
and breathe as we dance.

He finds his spot among you. Meanwhile, you are consumed with yourselves. You don’t yet hear the music. You are all inside your heads. You are trees that will not move but dare to swing, turning your back to the light. You’re a unit, moving at once; in the same moment/pace/direction. You run together and fear the same things, listening to each other’s intentions so you move as one.

You slow down to observe the space you occupy. Together, you laugh so hard, you become louder than music, louder than the music’s heart. The girl at the back falls alone at the center, her body convulsing as she remembers.

You split up, but the running continues. You want to help them, but you also want to save yourselves. Run, thrust, walk… It’s a funeral. Where does everyone go? When he finds you again, you argue about movement itself—who hides, who seeks?

You bring your balance back
and run towards the light.

Nelly Elmehrek is an educator who works with primary-school children. She likes writing, dancing, and films.

Celia Eid & Pierre-Stéphane Meugé, still from Punto Agitato, 2019

White Grids, Orange Morphs, and Open Spaces
—Shaimaa Farouk on Celia Eid & Pierre-Stéphane Meugé’s Punto Agitato, 2019

It’s 10 a.m. when Point shows up to his interview for a paid internship at a prestigious production house. Point is a slim man in his mid-twenties, dressed in khakis, a navy blue gingham shirt, and a pair of round brass glasses. Point’s interview is with the Senior Creative Director, Wade, who is significantly taller and about a decade older, his head shaved, donning grey pants paired with a grey shirt, sleeves casually rolled-up.

Wade: Let’s sit over there. Looks comfier, right?

Point: Sure, why not?

Wade and Point head to a more casual corner of the office, with comfortable chairs, a LED screen, a simple coffee table, and a window overlooking a tiny garden. The intimidatingly-long meeting tables are almost out of sight. It was Point’s first hint that this would be an unusual interview.

Wade: I want you to watch this film and tell me what you see, Point. It’s only 11 minutes long.

Point: Ok, sure.

Point takes out a little notebook and an ink pen, and tries hard to focus and to take notes. Wade leaves him in the room to go check on a project’s progress with one of the graphic designers in-house. Point struggles to keep up with what he’s watching, how he’s feeling, and what he’s writing. When the film ends, Point stares blankly, panicking a little on the inside. When Wade walks into the room, he catches Point reaching for his laptop, hoping to replay the film.

Wade: So, tell me what you saw.

Point: It’s like all the cells of a body could–

Wade: No, that’s too obvious.

Point: But I–

Wade: Watch it again please.

Wade leaves the room, leaving Point sitting there puzzled. He presses the replay button. This time, Point doesn’t write down any notes.

Eleven minutes later, Wade returns.

Wade: So? Any fresh perspectives?

Point: Well, I imagined it as how politicians–

Wade: No, no politics. Watch it again please. 

Eleven minutes later, Wade returns.

Wade: So?

Point: Could you give me five more minutes please? I need to jot something down.

Wade leaves him for closer to 15 minutes before he returns. As if possessed by an eloquent ghost, Point speaks for what feels, to both of them, like an hour.

Point: Well, let’s say I’m in this room, alone, excited, and confused. But I know one thing: I have paths that I want to take, grids that define who I am, and clear lines that I have drawn for myself and my community. Let’s say I have found someone out there who’s just like me, then another, then another. Now, let’s say we found each other and our dreams grew bigger and bigger through various constellations, while we still held onto one thing – our lines. We know we’re not there yet, we know we’re confused, we know we may seem like boring conformants, but we know we’re getting to where we want to go. Now, let’s say worms start to wade through our sphere—worms are good, but sometimes they can eat away at your elements. So we allow them passage, but refuse direct communication.

Now in a parallel universe, let’s say the bigger groups exist, the bigger houses – houses just like yours. You’re out there discussing and creating ideas into your voids with no lines to stop you, yet these ideas never leave your rooms. Your chosen jingle sounds scary and you are visually irritating, but you choose welcoming and warm youthful shades of red and orange so that when you morph with the crowds, you look safe. You’re cooking something up, something big, something even you are nervous about. You try to get all the help you can get from your allies.

Now, our space seems empty as we spread out to find the answers and come back again, so you send in basic, harmless-looking shapes that look a little like us. They swim around in our space and through our lines; they start to have a little order themselves. Some couldn’t take this encounter so they left, while others tried to understand and started to produce their own contours and discover their own lines. They start to feel the energy we left behind, and, for some of us, even our worm nomads have stayed there in our space, keeping it alive until we got back. Now some of the unmorphed beings from your big houses decide to drop in on us when they get this alarming news; of togetherness, collaboration, coexistence. They had to explore. But they couldn’t stay a second longer, and abruptly left.

Wade: Why did they leave?

Point: They couldn’t take the lines.

They sit in silence for a minute. Wade looks at him, tries to hide that he is equally impressed and puzzled. Point gets a little boost of confidence all the same: he feels he did well. But also, a strange feeling crawls into his chest: did he really want to work for Wade?

Wade: So, this is your interpretation of a bunch of turbulent points on a black background. I actually find it good, yet weird. Why would you apply for a job at a big house like this one when you clearly prefer your little lines?

Point: I don’t know. I really don’t. 

Wade: Well then, I would have to ask you a very basic, grid-like question: Why should I hire you?

Point: I don’t really have an answer to that. But, thank you for making me watch this film three times in a row. I would appreciate if you would give me the time to figure this one out. Could you give me three days?

Wade: We’ll talk in three days then, Point.

Shaimaa Farouk graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts, department of Set Design for Cinema, Theatre and TV. She is currently an Assistant Lecturer at the Cinema and Theatre department at MSA University’s Faculty of Arts and Design. She is also a freelance Art Director.

Dario Ricciardi, still from The Restorer, 2018

What Makes Something Permanent?
—Nada Fakhry Ismail on Dario Ricciardi’s The Restorer, 2018

Do these parallel white lines signify my right to be on this road? Or do they push me all the way to the periphery and signify the size of my rights? Do their existence here testify to their absence elsewhere? Or does it testify to their precarious nature? Lines and systems that do not sustain themselves, lines made to fade: Who are they for?

Should we try to restore them? Or should we, instead, try to destroy them? Does restoring these systems challenge their short-lived dispositions?

What if we drew massive white lines and plastered them all around an entire country that doesn’t have them. Is that all it takes?

Would we suddenly have rights? Will cars stop when my feet touch
the very first line?

If The Restorer paints over every hole in every line, what will fade first?
Will it be the paint, where the holes were? Or will it be the larger spots
that haven’t yet been painted over?

Does it matter what fades first?

Who is to blame? Should we blame the paint? The roads?
The people who use them? Should we blame the neon green man
for letting people step on the white lines? What about the asphalt?
Should it be scrutinized for failing to confine paint in its porous surface?
Or maybe, we should blame the futility of individual action,
for not faring up against the systems it attempts to restore.

Does everything need constant restoration? What happens when
our rights are eaten away like the white lines of a zebra crossing,
stepped on over and over? Who is to blame?

Foam bubbles away and temporarily
conceals the cavities.

What makes something permanent?
Is it time? More time?

Does that mean a year is better than an hour? Always?

Nada Fakhry Ismail is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and curator born in Cairo. Her body of work ranges from video art to performance, photography and academic research. She has most recently facilitated Coffee and Cream, a poetry workshop at ONCA, a Brighton-based gallery. She received her BA in Philosophy, Politics and Art from Brighton University.

Salma Shamel, still from Those That Tremble as if They Were Mad, 2018

It Was Horrible. It Was Beautiful.
—Hadeer Hamdy on Salma Shamel’s Those That Tremble as if They Were Mad, 2018

He was trying to tell a story about something that happened in a city.

“I can’t find the line between reality and science fiction. It was an optical illusion!” he said.

He called himself ‘The Glitch Monster.’

He saw it all:

It was horrible.

It was beautiful.

He can’t stop hearing the woman screaming.

Salma was standing quietly, shielded from the violence:

Watching, observing, and printing.

She couldn’t stop.

It’s absolute chaos in here.

It’s out of control.

Panic, mixed feelings, and fear of both the unknown and the known.

She has a lot of sympathy for that place, which she knows by heart.
Tales of the past, the wasted moment, hold no meaning right now.

No breadth.

Beginnings can be seen in the mirrors,
and the ruins at the end are clear.

We have endless photos and images, but who will tell the story?

Though they all know it, no one dares to speak.

Are you going to find truth all on your own?


Hadeer Hamdy (b. 1991, Alexandria, Egypt) is a visual artist based in Alexandria. Her practice explores topics including science fiction and narratives of the future. She currently participates in MASS Alexandria’s Studio and Study Program, and is preparing for an M.A. in Art History and Research at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University. She holds a B.F.A in​ ​General Painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Alexandria University.