SATURDAY

“Doesn’t everyone in the world love Umm Kulthum?,” asks a old woman in this documentary about the Egyptian singer. Most people have never heard of Kulthum, of course, but the old woman’s confusion is understandable. The singer was a sensation in Egypt during her 50-year career (she died in 1975), and the powerful signal of Egyptian radio blasted her traditional tunes throughout the Arab world. Michal Goldman’s documentary, narrated by Omar Sharif, briefly recounts the story of both Kulthum and 20th-century Egypt, and the two are sometimes hard to separate. The singer was a favorite of both King Farouk and the man who deposed him, President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, and Kulthum became more than just a national symbol. She once brokered the resumption of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Tunisia, and she strongly supported Egypt’s wars against Israel. (The film treats the latter issue hastily.) An intriguing introduction to the singer and her place in Egyptian culture, the documentary follows Kulthum’s career from its early days— when the peasant girl dressed as a boy because it was considered indecent for a female to sing in public—to her funeral, which drew 4 million people. For Western viewers, though, the short video and audio clips included here fail to convey the intensity the singer’s fans describe. This screening will be introduced by University of Maryland ethnomusicologist Jozef Pacholczyk. At 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, at the Freer Gallery’s Meyer Auditorium, 12th St. & Jefferson Dr. SW. Free. (202) 357-3200. (MJ)