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NYFF: These Girls

October 12th, 2006 (06:00 pm)

current mood: disappointed

© 2006 D. Gordon

El-Banate dol (These Girls)
Dir: Tahani Rached

There are street kids the world over, and there have been some memorable movies and documentaries about their lives: see Pixote, Salaam Bombay!, The City of Lost Children, even Oliver Twist for some examples. These Girls, however, may mark the first time that the lives of girls living on the street in an Arab country have been covered.

Tahani Rached spent five months filming several girls between the ages of 16 and 20 and their lives in a new (~30-yr-old) Cairo neighborhood. Abeer is pregnant. Maryam and Dunya lend support. Tata, the tough, charismatic whirlwind, acts as the group's spokesman and guide. They spend their nights hanging out in their stretch of street, doing drugs, avoiding angry-to-violent relatives, and pulling the little scams and such that keep them alive. The girls watch out for each other, taking care of babies, presenting a front against the street boys (who are more than capable of being violent), and even lending each other what little money they have.

There's a lot of information offered about a pretty serious problem in Cairo. There are somewhere between 200,000 and a million street kids in the city. The movie caused quite a stir domestically, especially since the average Cairene seems more intimidated by the girls (reasoning that they had to be extra-tough to be on the streets) than the boys. The 16-year-old Tata herself, with clear self-assuredness and street smarts, has been out there since the age of six; like most of the kids, she has little to no formal education, although they all have the freedom and the ability to be themselves that they never would have had if they'd stayed with their families (but at what a price). And from the drinks vendor and the old man on the corner, to Hind, the middle-class woman who has somewhat adopted them, the girls do have a social network that can't provide it all, but does help out where it can. There are boyfriends that the girls seem to love. And. of course, they have each other. Interestingly, Rached believes that in a different atmosphere, these girls would have become community leaders or more; in the poverty-stricken environment which they come from, however, there's little room for independent, outspoken girls who can't compromise on who they are.

The only problem is that most of this information came across in the Q&A, not the movie itself. The film shows the girls goofing around, being territorial, taking time out to care for each other. Several times Tata buys time on a horse (much like renting a bike) and rides through the streets with the vehicular traffic because she feels free. There are some shocks delivered matter-of-factly, like the day the girls take the camera crew to "The Shack," where some of the boys will sometimes take kidnapped girls and hold them prisoners for days / weeks, forcing them to have sex until the boys become bored and let them go. There are many scenes, but it's hard to put together everything into a cohesive whole, to get beyond the bits and understand the sheer scope of the problem. Which is a shame, because Rached - who clearly loves these girls - has a rich topic that could have been much more.

Let's hope that the Cairenes, who have more direct experience with these homeless kids, are able to get enough out of the movie to start thinking of solutions.