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Translating Sound: Towards an Accessible Cinema for Egypt’s Deaf Audiences

March 13, 2023

Film is primarily a visual medium, but much of a viewer’s understanding and enjoyment of it is tied to sound. When we think of Stephen Spielberg’s classic Jaws (1975) trilogy, for instance, one of the first memories that come to mind is its iconic musical score: two crescendoing notes announcing the titular shark’s arrival, which earned composer John Williams his second Oscar. On the local front, Egyptian cinema in particular owes much of its development to the power of sound. In the 1930s, the production of musicals starring legendary performers like Umm Kulthum, Abdel-Halim Hafez, and Laila Mourad, propelled the local industry to international prominence. The genre has since continued to form part and parcel of Egypt’s film tradition, shaping the filmography of such auteurs as Youssef Chahine and Khairy Beshara. Yet, even beyond musicals, the key role of sound transcends genre boundaries, extending to the comedies of Ismail Yassine, Adel Imam, or Mohamed Henedi; or the winding monologues of 1950s melodrama. How many lines do we still cite from memory and how much of their resonance lies in intonation and delivery rather than text? From this follows the question:…

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