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21st November 2011

Between two discoveries

Sara Jaspans asks when film and art intersect – what happens to the facts? – in this artist-made documentary.

You know Cairo? As in the Cairo – not Egypt’s capital; Cairo as in the historical English-speaking, dusty, mall-lined, super-sized Cairo, Illinois, in the good ole’ U.S. of A.? Cairo as in ‘Kaaay-Row’ (as pronounced with a deep, sleepy, vowel-savouring Southern drawl).

No? Well, neither had Manchester-based artists Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan until they stumbled upon it one fateful night many dust-sweats ago, whilst working on another project. Neither had I, until, four years later, I stumbled across the knees crowding my aisle at Cornerhouse at the screening of Between Two Rivers: the feature-length documentary about the forgotten past and present of the city.

Since when does documenting fact interest art? These artists, at least seemed to be interested in presenting as truthful a portrayal as 90 minutes has ever allowed, and one that might even be called ‘artistic’.

Cairo, once upon a tale of two cities, almost became New York (back when New York was plain York). At first, it seems strange that a place once destined to become the heaving, black-clad noise-making metropolis superior of America could so quietly slip into a pool of silence.

Situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, Cairo was initially a centre of industry, transport and trade, attracting a steady flow of wealth into the town. That Cairo is a forgotten place is, in fact, closely related to its turbulent past. Its history is riddled with disasters, some natural, some not so – from floods to extreme racial violence – none of which is forgotten by the film.

Indeed the inhabitants of the sparse, ever-dwindling population that still linger in Cairo fix the camera with looks of sheepish consternation as if they themselves cannot account for the bizarre ghost town or even finding themselves there.

Between Two Rivers is a remarkable attempt to resuscitate Cairo; to unveil its dark past and shed light upon its uncertain present, if only for 90 minutes. This light throws into sharp relief a powerful history, thanks only to the compelling wit, curiosity and insight of its makers. Visually mesmerizing and well put-together, this is a documentary well worth stumbling into.

To watch the trailer, clips and for further information:

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