Francesca Araiza’s “Raise Your Voice” Fights for Egyptian Women’s Rights One Documentary at a Time

“ “Raise Your Voice” is a holistic concept that uses film making as a tool for advocacy and women empowerment. It is not only about the idea of filmmaking, but about Women Rights.” ~ Francesca Araiza  

Saturday March 25, 2017
By: Alexandra Kinias

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It didn’t take Francesca Araiza long to realize how sexual harassment in Egypt has no limits. The Berlin based film maker witnessed firsthand this shocking experience when she visited Egypt for the first time in 2014 to work on Cairo Jazzman –  a political music documentary set in the heart of the Arab world, and tells the story of the critically acclaimed Cairo Jazz Festival and its founder Amr Salah.

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Araiza started her career as a cinematographer, and advanced to become a documentary director and scriptwriter. She produced full length documentaries for the cinema and also films for educational purpose and news. In Egypt, she worked as the director of photography (DOP) for Cairo Jazzman, which was released at the 2017 IFFR Rotterdam. Together with the German co-producer and director Atef Ben Bouzid, they hired the production crew. “That was the moment when I realized how few women are executing this profession, especially in the technical departments. I also became aware that very few institutions provide an integral educational program apart from fragmented workshops. I also noticed how influential the role of audio visual media in the Egypt is, its use and how viral videos spread on social media.”

After her experience with the production of Cairo Jazzman, and with the glimpse and insight into the society and the situation of women, she realized “how challenging it must be to be a female in Egypt and the many disadvantages, stigmata and limits connected to their gender.” Araiza considered conducting an all-female workshops combining the process of teaching women how to make films and also “to give them a tool to express themselves and make statements.”

15697608_1898336727054040_6317966147305707199_nWith this concept in mind, Araiza founded “Raise Your Voice” workshops in 2015, which became not just a workshop about filmmaking, “but it also focuses on gender and women’s’ issues, and uses film as a tool to raise the voices of women who have something to say.” Araiza said.

As the founder and director of the project, Araiza’s “responsibilities are versatile,” focusing mainly on training and teaching the technicalities of documentary film making, “which she loves,” facilitates the story and develop the discussions which lead to the scripts. The stories developed are mostly inspired by personal experiences of the trainees, articles, friends’ news and news shared from other initiatives dealing with women issues.

Freedom of speech is encouraged among the trainees and “there is almost no censorship,” but the approval of the story has to be unanimous. “Keeping politics out of their production, the program focuses on personal stories and gives an insight in the world of their characters and their experiences, while pushing aside ambiguous ideas that are off line with their framework” or that of their partner, Zatek, a.k.a.The Digital Museum of Women. “Believing in the cause, Zatek helps with facilitating funds and the infrastructure of the project and support  us with network, management and coordination. Which gives me as trainer and developer the space to concentrate on trainings and the productions.” Arazia explained the partnership with Zatek.

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There are high expectations from “Raise Your Voice” team that these documentaries will contribute to a dialogue about the realities women face and to advocate their rights.  Araiza explains the reasons why they believe that, “Documentaries tell stories and everyone likes stories. But they are real! On screen, emotions and facts are delivered in a manner, other mediums can’t express. They work visually and are understood by everyone. They are evidence for ongoing conflicts and describe them in a personal manner. There is no doubt about the truth of the content because we see it with our own eyes. If the documentary is done well, we also feel it. Our documentaries give people voices who might otherwise not have the chance to speak up and start a dialogue.”

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Since its inception, “Raise Your Voice” has already conducted two beginner courses, an advanced course, one fellowship for out of Cairo residents and 4 short workshops in cooperation with Robert Bosch Foundation. With classes offered in several locations around Cairo, Araiza is looking for an office base for the project. She is currently seeking cooperation with various entities to guarantee sustainability and allow long term plans that also include programs outside of Cairo, to share women stories from rural areas.

So far, “Raise Your Voice” is a local initiative, but Araiza aspires to expand the project to include other Arab countries. “As I am of Mexican origins, I also would like to launch a partner project with girls from there, because I think although it is a very different cultural environment, there are many similarities.”

In spite of all the difficulties and challenges Araiza encountered, she still considers “Raise Your Voice” a life changing experience. “Watching our trainees growing from shy beginners to self confident filmmakers, being able to advocate their believes and realizing the impact of the films they produce is very rewarding. It motivates me to put more and more energy in the project and confirms to me on daily basis that we are doing a great job.” Araiza said.

For more about Raise Your Voice, visit its Facebook Page  and website 

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