Permissible documentaries: Representation in Ateyyat El Abnoudy’s documentaries
Van de Peer, Stefanie
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Van de Peer, S. (2011) Permissible documentaries: Representation in Ateyyat El Abnoudy's documentaries. Journal of African Cinemas, 3 (1), pp. 109-124.
Cairo, or 'Hollywood on the Nile' is known for melodrama and musicals. During the Golden Age of 1950s Egyptian cinema, directors adhered to the censor's laws and to an escapist nationalist image of the country. Within this rigid context, Ateyyat El Abnoudy has been working against the grain as a documentary maker – subverting the censor's sensibilities. While a political and social engagement with her topics was established from the very first of her films, she was then still searching for the most effective style to do this in. In her earliest short documentaries Horse of Mud (1971), Sad Song of Touha (1972) and The Sandwich (1975), she experimented with the voice of her subjects and the function of the camera, while in her later and most famous film Days of Democracy (1996), the subaltern is more palpably present, both verbally and visibly. I argue that she recaptures the voice and returns the gaze to the censor, the Egyptian bourgeoisie, and the spectators of her films, while rewriting contemporary Egyptian national identity.