• My Father Looks Like Hassan Fathy
    Sama Waly

New Gourna, Luxor, Egypt, ca. 1950. Courtesy of Hassan Fathy Archives, Rare Books and Special Collections Library, American University in Cairo.

Two filmmakers investigate events that led Egyptian state authorities to demolish the old village of Gourna, built sometime between the sixteenth and eighteenth century on the western bank of the Nile, across from the city of Luxor, above the ancient city of Thebes. Seven thousand Gournese have been relocated to a public housing project, accused of having built their homes atop the ancient tombs on the Theban Necropolis, and subsequently making tomb-raiding an age-old tradition. It has taken the government over a century to free the land for archeological research. An earlier effort to do so, following a scandalous theft of an entire rock carving in 1945, led the Department of Antiquities to commission Hassan Fathy—who would later become Egypt’s most famous architect—to build a model village, to lure the villagers into new modern homes. Fathy is famous as a pioneer in sustainable building and developed a philosophy of “appropriate technology” to resolve the housing crisis in Upper Egypt. The houses were modern, however antimodernist, an ode to traditional building coupled with modern technology. A few months into building, Fathy’s new village flooded and the project halted. The villagers for whom Fathy dreamt to build a better life refused to move and his utopian village remains incomplete to this day. Today, seventy years later, the architect Tarek Waly, a former disciple of Hassan Fathy, dreams of rehabilitating Fathy’s village. Amidst the violent political turmoil in Egypt, the film follows Tarek from Cairo to Luxor as he views vernacular architectural heritage in terms of its poignant deterioration. From the archives of Waly and Fathy, the film reconstructs a disjunct memory of vernacular building traditions gradually disappearing within a craze for an industry of cement and burnt brick in a modernizing nation-state. Faced with the reality of Egypt’s current political and economic challenges the film highlights Waly’s concern if, like Fathy, he too will fail to see his dream materialize?

Sama Waly writes, curates, lectures, performs and makes films from her studio in downtown Cairo. A researcher in the history of culture in modern Egypt, with a background in visual arts, she received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her first short documentary Apt. 5 dealt with the memory of an apartment and resurrected old traditions of a family who recorded parts of their lives in the sixties on magnetic tapes. Her second short, Sorry, no soy Fidel, was shot in Cuba in 2016, a few weeks after the death of Fidel Castro, exploring the dark humor in recent global politics. She is currently developing her first feature-length documentary, My Father Looks Like Hassan Fathy and is currently a residential fellow at Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts & Sciences, as well as a post-MA Andrew W. Mellon Foundation fellow at the American University in Cairo.

Rodrigo Brum is a Brazilian filmmaker, currently based in Cairo. He holds an MA in philosophy from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and an MFA in film, video, new media, and animation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He recently directed his first feature documentary, Like Someone Who Hears a Very Sad Song (in post-production), shot in the Cape Verdean archipelago, where he lived for almost a year. In Cairo, he is working on his second feature-length, My Father Looks Like Hassan Fathy, and is part of the team of Ambient Light, a production company based in Egypt, where he produces the feature documentary Za’atari Captains (in post-production), directed by Ali Elarabi, and the documentary Warda: l’algérienne (in development), directed by Souheila Battou. His work has been supported by several grants, fellowships, and residencies, including a MacDowell Fellowship (2017), and more recently the Backstory Film Residency (2019), provided by the Goethe-Institut Lebanon, among many others. Brum has taught philosophy and filmmaking in institutions in Brazil, the United States, Cape Verde, and Egypt, where he was a visiting fellow at the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences (CILAS).