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Study Guide | Film

Cairo Drive

Chaordic (adjective): of a system, organization, or natural process governed by or combining elements of both chaos and order

Sherief Elkatsha’s feature documentary Cairo Drive is a comical and insightful portrait of a country on the brink of great change told through the metaphor of traffic—in particular, the chaotic and disorienting roads of Egypt’s capital, Cairo. By placing himself in the passenger seat alongside a range of Cairo drivers that span the class spectrum, Elkatsha and his counterparts explore both the Cairo roads and the country’s collective identity and struggles, resulting in a film that illuminates the intersections where Egyptian perspectives collide, convene, and coexist. Shot before, during, and after the Egyptian revolution, Cairo Drive paints a picture of the challenges Egyptians have faced and continue to face as they try to evolve their government, providing a fascinating entry point for a classroom exploration of the Arab Spring.


Director’s Notes
“Cairo is an essay in entropy … but order is nevertheless maintained, if barely.”
—Maria Golia, Cairo: City of Sands

Cairo Drive recounts a communal narrative of the Egyptian people through individual stories told from the road. On all levels of society in Cairo, people must deal with corruption and organized chaos, and nowhere is this more evident than within the driving culture. Driving is one of the most democratizing forces in Cairo; everyone deals with getting from point A to point B.

Shot between 2009 and 2012 from the streets of Egypt’s capital city, Cairo Drive offers an understanding of the difficulties facing Egyptians today and sheds light on how they are dealing with the uncertainties of their collective future.

Subjects such as religion, humor, unemployment, and the daily struggle all play out through the cast of characters we meet on the road. Ambulance drivers, citizens, microbuses, taxis, and commuters all share a few kilometers of tarmac in one of the most populated cities in the world, where life, and sometimes death converge. Driving in Cairo is not just about transportation, but it is a metaphor for the struggle to get “somewhere” as an individual, as a culture, as a country on the verge of revolution.

I am an Egyptian/American whose documentary career has been mainly focused on Egypt. In 2007, I directed (with Jehane Noujaim) Egypt: We are Watching You, which looked at the political situation of the 2005 elections through the eyes of a grassroots activist group In 2008, I was the cinematographer on the documentary Cairo Garbage, directed by Mikala Krogh in collaboration with the Danish Film Institute. And for my third documentary, I rode through the congested Cairo streets alongside a diverse cast of characters—from taxi drivers to ambulance drivers, traffic cops to private citizens—capturing the unspoken codes of conduct, frustrations, humor, fatalism, and life-or-death decisions of driving in a city where the only rule is: there are no rules.

As someone with a foot in both cultures (East and West) I have a unique perspective through which to examine the city and the microcosm for revolution it has become.

—Sherief Elkatsha, director, Brooklyn, NY

“BAM Education study guides are supported by the Frederick Loewe Foundation.”