80-year-old Sayyed el-Dawwy is the last living interpreter of the Sira, the most significant Arabian epic poem. He is the only one who knows by heart its 5 million verses. And only he keeps the stories about the people of the crescent moon alive. Now, he wants to pass the Sira down on to his grandson Ramadan, just as it has been passed down by word of mouth for generations.
SIRA – SONGS OF THE CRESCENT MOON follows them touring Egypt for their concerts. And while Sayyed wants to teach the Sira to his grandson the way he knows and loves it, Ramadan is more interested in modern interpretations of the Sira, influenced by Pop music and soap operas.
In the struggle of generations over the meaning of the Sira, the picture emerges of a world caught between tradition and modernity. A world in search for its respective heroes – in the past as well as in the present.
Born 1969 in Aarau, Switzerland. Master in Social Anthropology, Film Studies and German Language and Literature at the University of Zurich. Thesis on various popular artists in Cairo (1997). Regular residencies in Egypt, studies of Arabian language. Further education in Directing, Cinematography, and Editing. Work as cultural manager, organization of exhibitions on contemporary art from Africa. Numerous films as freelance documentary filmmaker. Part-time film producer at vum Production in Zurich.
Ahmed Abdel Mohsen
Born 1974 in Aswan, Egypt. Media Sciences and Journalism Studies at the Faculty of Art, South Valley University, Egypt. Thesis on the Function of Political Mass Media (1996). Jobs as hotel manager in Aswan (until 1999) and as Station Manager for Midwest Airlines (until 2001).
Graduate of the F+F film school, Zurich. Written and directed various feature and documentary films, among others, (Away to God) about the holy festivals in Egypt. Freelance filmmaker, project manager and translator (Arabian into German and English) and as a teaching assistant at the F+F film school in Zurich.
At the beginning we were simply enthusiastic about the traditional Sira music performances in which a Sira interpreter or singer performed the old epic in poetry form, accompanied by singers or musicians. The song is haunting and strikingly beautiful. The power of the poetry as presented captivates everyone, even those who do not understand the words.
The stories of the Sira, which have been passed down by word of mouth for generations, describe the adventures of the desert people of Bani Hilal, and his dark-skinned hero Abu Zayd. In the eleventh century they moved from the Arabian Peninsula to Egypt and North Africa. Their migration has its historical references in the spread of Islam in the mentioned areas. However, in the stories of the Sira a lot was added and dramatized. This «historical folk poetry» even includes contemporary topics. And until today the stories of the Sira are constantly changed in reference to present times.
As time passed, however, we began to be more interested in the qualities and function of the hero Abu Zaid. The many comparisons that are made between Abu Zaid and persons living in more modern times led us to the question: what is it that makes someone a hero today and who, exactly, are those heroes. This question became even more relevant after the unexpected revolution in Egypt.
The original tradition of reciting the Sira is going to disappear. The competition of modern forms of entertainment is too hudge. But paradoxically the popular culture, which interprets the epic in a multitude of facets, seems to be a motor ensuring the continued existence of the Sira. And helps to present the Sira to a young audience.
80-year-old Sayyed el-Dawwy is the last living interpreter of the Sira. He is the only one who knows by heart its 5 million verses. Now, he wants to pass the Sira down on to his grandson Ramadan. But Ramadan struggles with his fate and the burden that he has to carry with this ancient tradition. In these two generations is reflected the preservation of the old and the awakening of something new.
We were very pleased that we gained the confidence of Sayyed el Dawwys and his grandson and that we could awake their enthusiasm for this documentary.
With SIRA - SONGS OF THE CRESCENT MOON we not only want to present the disappearing tradition of the Sira performance and set el-Dawwy a monument but also to confront the epic with modern times and open up a discussion about heroes.
We find interest in how traditional values contrast demands of a modern society - an antagonism represented by Sayyed el-Dawwy and Ramadan.
Sandra Gysi & Ahmed Abdel Mohsen
Written & directed by
Sandra Gysi & Ahmed Abdel Mohsen
Peter Liechti, Ahmed Abdel Mohsen, Sandra Gysi
Anja Bombelli, Sandra Gysi, Ahmed Abdel Mohsen, Marcel Derek Ramsay
Sounddesign & Mix
Sounddesign & Mix Ramón Orza ganzerplatz
Dolby Mastering, SDS Bern
Sayyed el-Dawwy, Ramadan el-Dawwy, Mohammed Mounir
Oud - Kamilya Jubran
Percussion - Roman Bruderer, p-train
Peter Guyer Rec TV, Bern
Assistent Zoé Bucher
Verlag Urbane Medien, Thomas Lohbeck,
in Cooperation with
Franziska Reck & Sandra Gysi
Executing Production in Egypt
Ahmed Abdel Mohsen & Sandra Gysi
in Cooperation with
Fekra Cultural Center Aswan
Post Production Manager
A production of RECK Filmproductions Zurich
Bundesamt für Kultur (EDI), Schweiz
Museumsfonds Int. Kulturelle Kooperation
Karl Mayer Stiftung
Alexis Victor Thalberg-Stiftung
Stiftung Bildung und Entwicklung, Fachstelle «Filme für eine Welt»
Ernst und Olga Gubler-Hablützel Stiftung
Kirchenrat des Kantons Zürich
Katholische Kirchen im Kanton Zürich
Röm.-kath. Dekanat Region Bern
Reformierte Kirchen Bern-Jura-Solothurn
Reformierte Kirche Baselland
Succès passages antennes
Under the patronage of Swiss Commission for UNESCO
UNESCO has declared the Sira an Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). In doing so, it has not only acknowledged the cultural importance of the Sira but it has also confirmed that the epic and its traditions are of great significance far beyond the boundaries of Egypt and the Arabian world. After long preparations, the UNESCO has granted its patronage of this project with the explanation: «Finally, the ‚Hilali epic’ is still considered to be the most important epic in the Arabian world - the only epic still performed in its integral musical form - even though it has disappeared from everywhere except Egypt. By presenting an important tradition of the Arabian cultural history, this documentary contributes to promoting intercultural understanding and international cultural cooperation».
RECK FILMPRODUKTION GmbH
RECK Filmproduktion in Zurich was founded in 2000 by Franziska Reck and focuses mainly on the development and production of documentary and experimental film – especially film essays – for cinema and television.
Franziska Reck has been actively involved in the world of film for twenty years, energetically promoting independent filmmaking in Switzerland. Beginning as a film distributor at the Filmcoopi in Zurich (1983-1990), she continued building up the distribution and promotion of Swiss films as director of the IGV/CID (1993-2000) and as freelance film producer herself (since 1990).
RECK Filmproduktion stands for – and features – interest in the lifestyles and the diverse forms in which people express themselves, as well as the fascination with images – whether documentary, staged or experimental in nature. In the centre of the search are human encounters, images depicting what happens when different cultures come together.