FMD co-founders: Israa Ibrahim, Nada Salem and Farah El-Rafei

Interview: Egyptian initiative Film My Design hopes to spread awareness of regional creative landscape

Combining design, architecture and film, an emerging cultural initiative in Egypt brings together creatives of different fields to highlight the work of Egyptian artists through film festivals and online programmes.

Shortlisted for Tamayouz’s Mohamed Makiya Prize, Film My Design (FMD) is a Cairo-based design-film festival founded by Farah El-Rafei, Israa Mahmoud Ibrahim and Nada Salem. Since 2018, FMD has fostered a community of Egyptian architects, designers, filmmakers and creatives in general, who connect with one another in order to be inspired by each other’s work and the work of their counterparts across the globe.

FMD primarily uses the medium of film and leverages its power as the most universal, enjoyable and relatable way to tell a story. By screening self-produced, as well as other acclaimed design-films from around the world, FMD exemplifies the true power of architecture and design, specifically their promise in imagining and reimagining the future, and in driving innovative and systemic change. Operating with the belief that appreciation for the built environment shouldn’t be limited to specialists, and that every person should have the language and tools to express what the built environment means to them, FMD has connected mainstream Egyptians with the work of Egyptian architects and designers, allowing audiences to learn from their challenges and triumphs, and to aspire themselves to unlock their own creative potential. FMD also took their screenings beyond Egypt, revealing this work to some of the biggest design capitals of the world, including Milan and Dubai.

Here, we speak with the founders of the initiative, who discuss the importance of supporting homegrown creatives.

A film screening at the FMD 2019 event

Tell us about starting Film FMD. Why did you choose to do so?
We were inspired by international design and architecture film festivals. We admired how these festivals uniquely present and celebrate design and architecture. They visually engage the viewers in the creative story rather than simply featuring the final products in an exhibition space. Since this type of event doesn’t exist in the region, we decided to establish a first of its kind initiative, Film My Design, which intends to establish Egypt as the forerunner in the regional design and architecture scene.

In the age of digital and social media, film is an incredibly prevalent tool for communication, expression and entertainment, and thus assists in communicating complex ideas such as design. Film can also drive a cultural and social impact by evoking a more personal, emotional connection with the presenter.

On a personal note, the three of us (founders) are Egyptians who lived most of our lives abroad. We had the urge to give back somehow to a country that we hadn’t really witnessed develop, or explored much of its hidden creative scene. FMD was a way for us to seek and connect with our roots and identity, which we hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore or learn during school, university or in our professional careers. We’ve always been critical of how rich and supportive the international design community is and the number of initiatives that exist to promote international creatives and support their work. This has really given us the motive to shed light on and empower the rich creative landscape in Egypt and in the region.

What were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
We would say our main challenge when we were first establishing FMD was promoting the initiative and getting supporters onboard. Because we lived most of our lives outside of Egypt, barely anyone in the local scene knew us, our background or our earlier contributions to the regional and international design scenes. We’ve spent, and continue to spend, a great deal of our time actively reaching out to creative practitioners (both established and emerging). We’ve visited designers, architects and filmmakers in their studios, presented to students and academics at universities and gave talks at relevant events to promote the festival, inform them about our future plans and encourage them to be part of the FMD community and participate in our future events.

Another challenge was finding existing documentaries on regional design and architecture to screen at our events. During our initial stages of research, we realised that there was a dearth of design-films that visually tell unique stories about the local and regional design and architecture scene and its development. And so, we’ve taken the responsibility to fill this gap by producing these films while engaging and involving the local creative community.

The 2018 event launch of FMD

What are some of FMD’s achievements?
FMD’s first edition was held on 15 and 16 February, 2019 at Zawya, Cinema Karim, in Cairo. Promising to be an immersive experience of inspiring media content and scintillating conversations, the FMD 2019 Festival brought together creative professionals from Egypt’s diverse design and film scenes. The festival screened a series of four international and five locally produced design-film documentaries, and hosted an exhibition, talks and panel discussions that revolved around design, architecture and film. The participating local designers were Argineering, Blue ++ Studio, Encode Studio, RiadArchitecture and Sam Product Design. Each designer was selected based on their unique design discipline and innovative technique, spanning fields such as product design, fashion design, interior design, architecture and lighting design. The participating local filmmakers were Abdallah Abed, Khoshoua El Gohary, Mohamed Magdy, Muhammad Taymour and Rewind N’ Play, each of whom is uniquely talented in their approach and application of filmmaking, with experiences and expertise that can be described as something between visionary, abstract and poignant. In addition to screening local design-films from Egypt’s design scene, we aim to promote cross-cultural dialogue with prominent and well-established design and architecture communities across the globe. For that reason, we partnered with the Milano Design Film Festival (MDFF) and screened some of their most exclusive international design-films.

We’ve also launched the FMD online film series, which feature Egyptian designers and their creative stories by providing a close and personal overview of their practice, creative process and aspirations. These films were screened at the 2020 Dubai Design Week along with a series of six short poetic design films that were the result of our collaboration with the Junior Year of the Multimedia Design Studio, led by Becky Beamer, an assistant professor at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Each film artistically features the story of one UAE-based designer, from the unique lens of the filmmaker students.

Additionally, we participated in various key events including DESiGNDUSTRY in Damietta, RiseUp in Cairo and Milano Design Film Festival in Milan to promote FMD and its programmes and participants.

Most recently, we launched the Emerging Local Talents (ELT) programme. The ELT programme is a workshop-oriented, curator-led programme that targets Egypt-based aspiring designers and filmmakers who wish to develop their career in design and filmmaking and enhance their creative portfolio by working closely and receiving mentorship from established practitioners in the creative industry. In 2020, the five-month programme (11 sessions of talks, workshops, round table discussions and film screenings) is led by guest curators from the design and filmmaking fields. This year, the selected curators are Amr Orensa, design manager at Pinocchio Furniture, and Karim Shaaban, director, filmmaker and storyteller, who mentor and support the participating designers and filmmakers. We’ve selected six designers and six filmmakers. Each designer is collaborating with a filmmaker to collectively produce a film that responds to the curatorial theme. The films will be screened at the second edition of the FMD festival in 2021. Most notably, the best films produced during the ELT programme will be screened at the Milano Design Film Festival (MDFF)!

What do you hope to achieve through FMD?
We would say that our ultimate goal for FMD is to establish Egypt as a precursor for the dualistic relationship between design, architecture and film, so that it creates a strong precedent for the design-film community in the MENA region and in the world.

How do you hope FMD contributes to the wider community?
Through FMD, we aim to develop an archive of design-film documentaries that capture and document the evolution and development of both creative fields in Egypt. We intend for FMD to act as a creative reference and means of visual documentation. Even though there have been recent efforts to archive Egyptian and regional creative practices, we believe that there still exists a major gap. Not only will this platform promote creative practitioners, namely designers/artisans and filmmakers in the region, but it will also become a great source of information and knowledge for schools, universities, educational institutes and the creative community as a whole.

Our first success indicator is when talented emerging designers and filmmakers are first recognised and brought to light through FMD. We believe that there are many hidden local talents that deserve a creative platform like FMD, which will provide them the exposure and opportunity to showcase and celebrate their work and practices. In aims of promoting local designers and filmmakers to the international audiences, we work on screening their films at international design and architecture film festivals and relevant events.

Another success indicator is our ability to raise public awareness on design and architecture. Witnessing the design process helps you think beyond what could merely be perceived as, “oh look how nice this chair is!”  There is much more to design than just the final product; more to be influenced by, learn from and be inspired by. Experiencing the design process has a much greater impact because it triggers ideas and builds an admiration for a certain creative discipline. It also gives a deeper appreciation of the craft and changes perceptions or even career goals of younger audiences to certain professions. Therefore, it promotes a more creative, innovative community by uncovering a hidden world of exploration.

How has Covid-19 impacted your filming activities? How are you adapting to continue bringing content to your audience?
As part of our #stay_home campaign in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, FMD hosted a series of live talks with established and emerging designers, architects and filmmakers to share their stories on FMD’s Instagram channel. We also made some of the films we had screened at the first edition available for free online streaming. This helped our creative audience to stay connected, inspired and hopeful during these challenging times.

What projects do you have coming up?
We are now in deep preparation for the second edition of the Film My Design Festival in 2021 (dates and location to be announced soon), where we will introduce new programme components to amplify our efforts of promoting, enriching and developing the region’s creative scene. We’re currently researching and exploring the untold stories of our creative landscape to deliver an event with an expanded, rich programme that celebrates the local, regional and international design scenes.