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Chihab El Khachab - How Tea Fuels the Film Industry

Thursday, the 9th of April at 6:00 pm

How Tea Fuels the Film Industry: Support Personnel in Egyptian Film Production

In Egypt as elsewhere, making a commercial film involves an extensive and hierarchical division of labour. While creative workers such as the director, the cinematographer, or the art director have more status and decision-making power on set, most workers involved in making the film product are support personnel – assistant-directors and cameramen, gaffers and grips, production assistants and boom operators.

There is now a sizeable ethnographic literature on these “below-the-line” workers in media production, mostly in Euro-American settings (Caldwell 2008, Mayer 2011) and in South and East Asia (Ganti 2012, Wilkinson-Weber 2014, Martin 2016). This literature has been instrumental in highlighting hidden labour behind the scenes on commercial film sets, but it has not so much addressed the kind of labour that is marginal to the film product per se while being integral to the day-to-day operation of film preparations, shooting, and postproduction. Workers such as cleaners, caterers, drivers, and office boys have an important role in film production, yet their contributions are not sufficiently recognized or theorized in the existing literature.

This talk will attempt to explain why these specific kinds of support personnel receive little more than a passing mention in existing ethnographies of filmmaking, while describing the contributions that they make to commercial film production in Egypt – by cleaning, cooking, driving, or preparing tea. The broader intent is to show how conventional conceptions of ‘filmmaking’ as an activity shift according to one’s position in the industry’s division of labour.

Chihab El Khachab is a Junior Research Fellow in Christ Church, University of Oxford. His academic work on Egyptian cinema, media, and popular culture has appeared in the Arab Studies Journal, Middle East Critique, and Arab Media & Society. He is also a regular contributor to the website Boring Books كتب مملة. His book, 'Making Film in Egypt: How Labor, Technology and Mediation Shape the Industry', is forthcoming with the The American University in Cairo Press (AUC Press). He is currently working on a social history of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

The number of seats is limited. Our doors open at 5:30 and close at 6:15 or earlier in case the lecture room has reached its full capacity (out of safety considerations).

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