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Ahmad Abdalla’s Microphone may not at first glance seem like a political film, yet in the wake of the revolution it is nearly impossible to view it through any other frame. Shot in 2010, Microphone explores the vibrant underground arts scene in Alexandria, the film’s generational tensions saying much about the clashing values of an old and new Egypt. Microphone will be screening in Melbourne as part of Winds of Spring: New Egyptian Cinema, a programme showcasing pre-revolutionary filmmaking from December 8-18 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

I was scheduled to interview Ahmad Abdalla last week, but the director (who has been heavily involved in recent protests in Tahrir Square) did not answer his phone, revealing just how tentative the situation in Egypt remains. “The last we heard Ahmed is basically in the middle of what is going on in Cairo,” says ACMI curator Kristy Matheson. “It’s interesting to think that they are having to deal with this kind of political shift even at the moment. It shows there’s a lot of people who are willing to really be quite passionate and vocal about the direction that they want their country to go in”.

Microphone originally began as a documentary after Abdalla went to Alexandria on a holiday. There he met Aya, an 18-year-old graffiti artist who introduced him to the city’s youth culture – a scene teeming with musicians, artists, skateboarders and filmmakers. The narrative was later constructed around Abdalla’s original footage, as documentaries are rarely shown in Egyptian theatres.

It was the contrast between traditional conceptions of Egyptian cinema (usually associated with epic melodramas) and the unconventional aesthetic of Microphone that drew Matheson to the film. “It really stuck out for me because it felt so contemporary,” she explains. “We don’t really get to see a lot of films like this out of countries like Egypt, so you almost forget that there’s a whole youth population there that obviously have a lot of things on their mind… I liked that universality that young people are into the same things all over the world”.

Alexandria is introduced through the eyes of Khaled (played by the charismatic Khaled Abol Naga), a young man who has recently returned to his hometown after several years abroad. As Khaled explores the city, initially bewildered by what now seems like an unfamiliar land, Abdalla’s camera kinetically captures the pace and colour of its streetscapes. But beneath the surface of what seems like a sleepy seaside city, Khaled soon discovers a subterranean world of youth culture that has flourished in his absence.

With the help of a teenage skateboarder, Khaled is introduced to an array of bands whose styles range from hip-hop to folk to metal (genres we would not normally associate with Egyptian music). Inspired, Khaled sets about organizing an outdoor concert to showcase their diverse sounds. As the film’s title suggests, Microphone is about amplifying the voices of Alexandria’s youth and giving them a space in which to be heard.

A central theme that emerges here is the problem of censorship in the arts. Before Khaled comes along, these bands have remained underground largely because they must perpetually fight against being silenced. This ties into the related issue that affects so many characters in the film – the question of whether it is better for young artists to stay in Egypt or move abroad. While Khaled has decided to return to Alexandria for good, his ex-girlfriend is escaping to London to do her PhD, insisting that he cannot comprehend what it is like being a woman in Egypt. It is clearly a question that has plagued Abdalla himself, who has chosen to stay and continue to make films in his homeland.

Despite the difficulties that Microphone‘s characters face, the film’s ultimate message is one of hope – perhaps the same sentiment that has seen millions of Egyptians join forces in the pursuit of social and political transformation. “There’s this huge amount of optimism that runs all the way through the film,” says Matheson. “I think the prevailing atmosphere at the end is that it’s a country full of young, talented people who will find a way”.