Documentary unravels history — and digital future — of mysterious Cairo Geniza
“Film includes interviews with 40 experts who chart the strange discovery and continued scholarship of the mass of rare random documents that make for a rich ‘medieval Facebook…”
The Times of Israel, Renee Ghert-Zand
"Highly recommended. In 1896, Romanian-born Cambridge University professor Solomon Schechter came upon an extraordinary discovery: a vast storage room (geniza) containing sacred ancient religious texts, manuscripts, and letters within a rundown Cairo synagogue. Filmmaker Michelle Paymar’s documentary details how Schechter located this amazing treasure trove, which included many original documents handwritten by the influential physician and philosopher Moses Maimonides, as well as more commonplace correspondence and lists that detailed the ebb and flow of life in medieval Egypt during a period when Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities existed in peaceful cooperation. While many of the documents were intact, countless others existed in fragmentary states and required endless hours to piece together and decipher (written in Arabic, Greek, and other languages using Hebrew letters). The film also chronicles ongoing efforts to digitize the documents found in Cairo and make them available to scholars studying the history of Egypt’s Jewish community. While the subject matter is scholarly, Paymar presents this material in a user-friendly manner that places old Cairo, Schechter's 19th -century academic world, and contemporary historical research into fascinating context."
“Michelle Paymar’s brilliantly conceived and executed film will captivate the general public while being of special interest to academic Jewish studies, especially Jewish history and culture; to those interested in Jewish-Muslim relations in the Middle Ages; to material culture and literacy; to the history of medicine and magic; to medieval Islamic administration; and, finally, to the application of computer technology to confronting the challenge of reconstructing these torn manuscripts, dispersed today in some seventy collections around the world.”
Mark R. Cohen Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, Emeritus Princeton University
“Highly Recommended” Educational Media Reviews Online
In Jewish tradition, religious texts are not thrown away, but are buried in a special ceremony, similar to a funeral. A Geniza is where these manuscripts are stored until their disposal. This documentary tells the story of one of the world’s most famous Genizas, the Cairo Geniza, which held not only religious manuscripts, but other texts including letters, tax documents, medical prescriptions, marriage contracts, and other everyday documents. This is the largest collection of social history documents on Medieval Jewish culture.
From Cairo to the Cloud chronicles the story of this massive collection, from when it was first discovered and dispersed among seventy different institutions to today, where it has been digitized and is now freely accessible online. The documentary provides an interesting life to this story through interviews with experts, cartoon depictions of historical scenes, and visuals of the texts themselves. It is also amazing to see that these texts are not only in Hebrew, but in Arabic and Yiddish as well. They depict a time of peaceful coexistence between the people of North Africa, something that would be nearly inconceivable today. I highly recommend this film for any academic library that supports a curriculum in history or medieval history.
Educational Media Reviews Online Lara Herzellah, Research and Information Literacy Librarian, Daniel A. Reed Library, State University of New York at Fredonia
“Tales of adventure and discovery by pioneering women and radical rabbis; Victorian photos and early movie scenes, together with modern animations and visual effects; rare, revealing and crumbling texts from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. This remarkable new film combines such spicy content with the views of learned historians, expert curators, innovative programmers and contemporary novelists from across the globe.
[From Cairo to the Cloud] brings viewers a lively, deeply informed introductions to one of the world's most astonishing collections of documents about the Middle East.”
Professor Stefan C. Reif Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge
“The first fully comprehensive film to examine the whole history of one of the world’s most remarkable, but least known, collections…Paymar has brought together all the leading scholars and figures in the field to examine the history of its discovery and expose the importance of its manuscripts.
Sumptuously shot, through site visits, interviews with scholars, librarians and authors, and through the words of the medieval texts themselves…
Students of history are increasingly getting their facts through videos and podcasts, and Paymar has produced an ideal experience for them here: a documentary on perhaps the most important archive of the Middle Ages with high production values and unquestionable authority.”
Dr Benjamin Outhwaite, Head of Asian and African Collections & Genizah Research Unit Cambridge University Library
Michelle Paymar’s fascinating documentary, From Cairo to the Cloud, tells the extraordinary story of the discovery and significance of the Cairo Genizah, the largest cache of ancient Jewish texts yet discovered, which spans a thousand years of history. It is a story of archaeological discovery and of social history, of religious belief and humanism, of outsiders and pioneers, and at its heart, people…
Paymar brings all this to life with some crisp editing and a well-paced narrative that takes us from Victorian Cambridge right into the 21st century, where the power of the internet brings together the fragments from the Cairo Genizah which were scattered across the globe. It is meticulously researched, with a cast of engaging experts who enlighten and entertain with this extraordinary story. Anyone with a passing interest in history will find all this enthralling. As one expert in the film points out, “It is like looking back at that time through the memory of God”. If that is not enough to pique an interest, I don’t know what is.
Because of Paymar’s efforts, the rest of us can see inside the Cairo geniza’s treasures much more easily. We should take the opportunity to do so. It is a fascinating journey.
Jewish Independent, Cairo Geniza Treasure
…Extensively researched and painstakingly crafted…
San Diego Jewish World, Donald H. Harrison
‘From Cairo to the Cloud’ filmmaker Michelle Paymar
Leading up to the 2019 JxJ, we asked our filmmakers and artists a few questions about their featured programs. In this edition, filmmaker Michelle Paymar talks From Cairo to the Cloud