‘From Cairo to the Cloud’ filmmaker Michelle Paymar
Leading up to the 2019 JxJ, we asked our filmmakers and artists a few questions about their featured programs.
In this edition, filmmaker Michelle Paymar talks From Cairo to the Cloud
What inspired you to tell the story depicted in your film?
I was captivated by the immediacy of the voices from the Geniza, the richness of Judeo-Arabic culture, and the sophistication of their milieu. When I learned that Cambridge was in the process of digitizing its final Geniza documents for the Friedberg Geniza Project, I called Ben Outhwaite, the head of the Geniza collection at the Cambridge University Library, to find out if any film crews would be documenting this momentous event. When I learned that no one was planning to film the digitization of the last documents, I grabbed my camera and my gear and went to Cambridge to film it myself.
What was a particular obstacle you faced while making this film?
Gaining permission to film in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo required nearly seven years, three Egyptian governments, gaining the support of representatives from the Jewish community of Cairo, the assistance of the Canadian Consulate in Cairo, approval by the Egyptian Ministries of the Interior and Antiquities, the Egyptian state police, the Egyptian tourist police, the Egyptian Press Office, and the Jewish Community of Cairo. I was the first filmmaker in decades to be allowed to film inside the synagogue.
What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
At its medieval height, nearly ninety percent of the Jewish people lived and flourished in Islamic lands. Although there were exceptions, it was a period of co-existence and relative religious tolerance nearly unimaginable today. “From Cairo to the Cloud -The World of the Cairo Geniza” examines the reality of that co-existence.
Why do you think Washington, DC is a valuable location to screen your film?
The Jewish Film Festival in DC is one of the most vital Jewish film festivals in the world with a reputation for attracting a broad and engaged audience. As an added bonus, the festival was founded by one of my favorite documentary filmmakers, Aviva Kempner. It’s a wonderful honor for From Cairo to the Cloud to screen here in the company of so many important films.
What films, filmmakers, or artists have been the most influential to you?
Agnes Varda (especially Vagabond and Visages Villages), Albert and David Maysles (Salesman and Grey Gardens), Canadian filmmakers Donald Brittain and John Spotton who made Memorandum (an extraordinary documentary about a holocaust survivor’s return to Bergen-Belson), and Aviva Kempner (Partisans of Vilna).
Why are Jewish-interest films important today?
Jewish-interest films are a vitally important way for Jews around the world to connect with one another and expose diverse audiences to the rich variety of Jewish culture.