Nadia Kamel’s Salata Baladi is a documentary with a simple premise: recorded family history. However, while the premise itself may be simple, Kamel’s film successfully touches on complex social and political tensions that have and continue to affect Egyptian society. Responding to an increase in negative rhetoric directed at perceived “others” in her native Egypt, Kamel set out to document her own diverse family history by recording the memories of her mother, Mary Rosenthal. Through these memories, we are transported to a time when diverse populations lived side by side in the neighborhoods of Cairo. Immigrants from Syria, Turkey, Italy and Greece shared space with local Christians, Jews and Muslims. Full of nostalgia, the film celebrates how this diverse environment allowed for the creation of families like Kamal’s which cross ethnic and religious divides.
However, the film moves beyond simply recoding a specific family history as Kamal’s family story inevitably becomes entangled with the wider politics of Egypt. Through exploring her mother’s personal history, Nadia Kamel is able to document the change that occurred in the mid twentieth century as nationalism took hold of Egypt and foreign populations became excluded from a rapidly changing Egyptian society. This witnessing of the effects of wider politics on the lives of everyday Egyptians finds emphasis during her mother’s trips to visit family abroad in Italy and Israel. During her mother’s trips, Kamal had the opportunity to interview these relatives and hear their reasons for leaving Egypt as well as their lingering connections to the country. The film especially touches specific history of Jews in Egypt and their relationship with Israel. While Kamel’s mother chose to stay in Egypt and expressed a sense of disapproval towards the emigration of Jews from Egypt to Israel, many of her relatives chose to move during the 1940s and 50s. Through her trip to Israel, we are able to hear from those who chose to immigrate. Through their accounts of life in Egypt and vestiges of Egyptian culture, we are able to see their unique individual ties to both countries. As a whole, the film serves to highlight the complexity of identity and belonging within the established framework of family.
Suggested Bibliographic Materials:
The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews: First-person Accounts from Egypt’s Jewish Community in the Twentieth Century by Liliane Dammond
Dammond, Liliane S. The Lost World of the Egyptian Jews First-person Accounts from Egypt’s Jewish Community in the Twentieth Century. New York, NY [u.a.: IUniverse, 2007. Print.
Sarah Dwider 4/19/11