Umm Kulthum
A Voice Like Egypt


In 1992, Michal Goldman went to live in Cairo for a year. Even more striking than the look of the city was its mix of sounds: donkey carts, heavy construction equipment, incessant honking of horns, the clatter of goat hooves, people's voices, and music. After a while she began to recognize the voice of Umm Kulthum, from the daily 5 pm broadcast on Egyptian radio, and the cassettes played in cafes, shops, and taxis. The singer had died in 1975, but people from all walks of life spoke of her as if they knew her personally. Her music, and her story, seemed to be a thread running through a very complex society. Goldman decided to develop a film about Umm Kulthum and Egypt.

Goldman was able to do research for the project because of a chance encounter in Cairo with ~Irginia Danielson, a musicologist writing a book about Umm Kulthum. Danielson had read all the Arabic sources, which Goldman couldn't, and she opened up the subject to Goldman.

Over the next four years, from 1992-1996, Goldman researched and raised funds for the project, spending more than two years in Egypt. She filmed and collected archival materials over the course of a year, and then wrote and edited for another year, working with a small group of collaborators.

Goldman is a graduate of Harvard University with a concentration in History of Art. She was drawn to documentary filmmaking during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, and trained as a film editor. Her work as editor and director has played theatrically, been broadcast on PBS, and won prizes, including the Academy Award. She is President of Filmmakers Collaborative, a group of independent documentary filmmakers in Boston.


Egypt has a large and well-established film industry that provides product for the entire Middle East. Goldman worked with Misr International Films, a production house founded by Yousef Chahine, Egypt's most renowned director, who has himself long intended to make a film about Umm Kulthum. The cinematographer, Kamal Abd al-Aziz, has worked with Egypt's new generation of directors, particularly Mohammad Khan, who is credited with bringing Egyptian dramatic films out of the studio and into the street. For Umm Kulthum, A Voice like Egypt, he was able to com- bine the visual strategies of documentary and dramatic cinema. The film was shot in 16mm, and in video (PAL).