Out of Time, Yet Still Making Movies

Posted: June 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

Using the lightbox while making my 1st rough-cut [photo: Michel Balagué]

Like much in Egypt these days the taste of directing my first film was bittersweet. A product of the 6-day workshop ‘Analogue Zone #1+’, most nights I would end up leaking at the eyes; every time I remembered how sweet it felt… followed by how bitter & cruel it would be to have that snatched away on July 17th – if the Egyptian Judiciary would decide to falsify its conscience yet again and bend it towards the police’s version of the story…

To make media sacrificial lambs of myself and the 378 other free spirits- who are being accused by the Police and the Prosecutor General of all the phony charges imagined by the police against ‘those arrested’ [or more aptly- ‘those used to fill in the blanks’] in Tahrir in November [aka : events of Mohamed Muhmoud]. And like many of the other ‘sites’ or groups of events that we have committed to memory in the past year and a half-  it’s usually a ‘site’ where more martyrs are tallied, and where more crimes are committed; such as Maspero, Port Said, Occupy Cabinet, Abbasseya.. And like any crime thriller B-movie: you always need someone ‘who dunnit’, a person to pin the crimes to, [this person/group ‘who dunnit’, and the crimes they dunn, is sometimes even ‘suspected to be perpetrated by security forces’- when we’re lucky enough to have caught it on film], otherwise any unsuspecting passers-by will do just fine so the police can pin these crimes on them. Thus it seems the police, the prosecutor and the judiciary have decided to join forces-creative and otherwise-  in pinning these charges on us 379 unsuspecting souls, probably  in a sense to politically condemn us and make an ‘example’ of us to herald the ‘new order’ of things after the Presidential elections


Well I pray that all 379 of us stay free on the 17th of July and the days to follow, and I pray to be able to continue making my films after discovering how sweet it feels..

Along with the training and support of such beautiful people as the wonderful crew at Cimatheque, as well as the amazingly talented co-participants who enriched every day of the 6-day workshop,  I have been blessed to have so many people I love & respect involved in making ‘Falling into Oneself’…

Bless you all & please know that I am forever grateful for these magical moments and shall cherish them always…

Format: 16mm black & white

Duration : 3:40 seconds

Produced in Analogue Zone Workshop Cairo May 2012

Concept & Story : Islam Safiyyudin Mohamed

Starring : Hana El Bayati

Music : Alan Bishop & Sun City Girls

D.O.P. : Tarek Hefny

Cinematography : Tarek Hefny & Islam Safiyyudin Mohamed

Digital Editing : Stefan Heiniger

Analogue Editing : Islam Safiyyudin Mohamed

Directed by Islam Safiyyudin Mohamed & Tarek Hefny

Produced by Cimatheque 2012

[special shout-out to Michel Balagué : we miss you O mighty analogue master : )]

‘Falling into Oneself’ 1st rough-cut [photo: Michel Balagué]

A few weeks earlier in April I was commissioned by Ekko, the leading Danish film magazine, to write a feature describing the independent film scene following 25 Jan 2011. The feature was translated to Danish and published May 7th 2012.. This is the draft of the English…

Rising from the Ashes: Independent Egypt

Pt I: Setting the Scene

In every town in Egypt, Egyptians had arrived at the end of the line with Mubarak’s regime. After 30 years of an abusive relationship that went only one way-the regime’s way- they took to the streets in every governorate on the 25th of January; the day commemorating policemen- the hammer Mubarak used to strike at Egyptians.

Egyptians realized that they deserved better, that the human being was worth much more than the way their government treated them. And though lives were lost, and intense firepower, arrests and violence drove them away, they returned, and in bigger numbers.

Mubarak exited the picture leaving his soldiers to handle Egypt’s affairs almost unquestioned. The first to run to the side of Mubarak’s Military Council were the Muslim Brotherhood, breaking rank from Tahrir square in search of wins in a political game that established this council as ruler supreme. They kept quiet even as more Egyptians got massacred in 14 months than all of Mubarak’s years of rule. And they did win; an overwhelming majority in Parliament. Only when Egyptians witnessed the inaction of these Islam-esques [those using Islam as political podium] in parliament, did they start paying more attention to calls that a deal had been struck, and that Egypt is hijacked by a small circle that had sacrificed a few past key figures for a symbolic retribution to absorb the anger of the masses, and that this circle simply grew bigger to include the ‘Islamists’ without any real change or intentions to bring about the change that the masses had called for- Bread.. Freedom..Social Justice.

Now the military council has managed to throw Egypt into chaos, seemingly in the hopes that the circus they create may ensure a safe exit. They used tools such as live ammo, running over protestors in armored vehicles, swift military trials, control over media, raising fears of Islamists home and abroad, and an economy driven to the ground, to control and steer Egyptians back home, confused and doubting everything and everyone.

At the end of May Egyptians are expected to choose a new president, a decision that for many will most likely be influenced by fear. Not hope.

And like everyone else, thinkers, writers and storytellers are afraid for Egypt and what the military council and Islam-esques may turn it into.

Like every sector in Egypt cinema is going through a period of confusion;  we’re waiting for those in control to make up their minds what kind of country this will be so the people can start figuring out whether they can work with that or maybe have to take to the streets again.

We find hope in first-timers like filmmaker Maggie Osman who’s film was shot totally without permits, or Adham El Sherif, a 3rd year cinema student’s film ‘One of the City-Dwellers’ Ahad Sukan Al Madina stars a street mongrel and portrays a complex spectrum of emotions through a canine protagonist. These efforts no matter how valid are fearfully still dust in the wind…

To tie it all together; the corruption, the blocking of new talent that doesn’t abide by the commercial system and bureaucracy. The fact that new youth other than weathered independent filmmakers are brave enough to take to the streets with their cameras and make films and project their ideas without caring about permits and the whole commercial system is phenomenal- as it gives voice to the voiceless.

But still the fate of this wave remains unclear as the commercial system’s fate itself is in doubt and unclear at the moment, in anticipation and in lieu of different political scenarios.. like perhaps the army continuing its hegemony, or the Islamists gaining presidential powers on top of their parliamentary majority and reshaping all of Egyptian culture, or could it be that remnants of the old regime are able to clench and reclaim power, or perhaps even the masses somehow managing to shake all that off to take back their voice and their media, at the very least in terms of elimination of corruption, reliability, accountability, transparency and quality of content. The aim should be to allow for new, real space and the culture/mind to savor the different modes of expression that exist outside the regime, corrupt commercial and bureaucratic structures.

Pt. II: Storytellers

Omar Shargawi is the director of Ma Salama Jamil which won the VPRO Tiger Award at Rotterdam Film Festival ’08, My Father From Haifa awarded 2 prizes at Dubai Film Festival, and 1/2 Revolution one of best films made on Egypt’s uprising. Omar is currently working on his latest film Kairo.

Ibrahim Batout won the Golden Hawk in Rotterdam in ’08 with his movie Eye of the Sun, and has just finished his film Winter of Discontent which is set during the final days of the revolution.

Ahmed Abdallah’s film Microphone is the winner of Carthage Film Fest and is currently working on his new movie Farsh w Ghata.

In the gleaming desert sun Arabia is famous for, director Omar Shargawi sits at equal parts from the sea and the Sinai Mountains. Nothing breaks the silence of this the first hint of summer other than the waves and the occasional camel riders or Bedouin ladies selling souvenirs…

Omar: I’ve been away from Egypt for some time so I wouldn’t say I have an optimal picture of the situation on the ground but I feel things are the same. Still the same film syndicate in control, still censorship, still the same rules apply.

I fear the worst; an ultra-conservative government that will make it even more impossible to make movies than it is now.  I believe the next 3 months will prove instrumental in how Egypt will take shape in the future, down to how Egyptian cinema will become.

We’re all a bit nervous because we don’t know what the situation will be like once a new president has been elected.

Hundreds of kilometers away at his home in the Cairo Nile-island of Zamalek, director Ibrahim Batout leaves the latest youtube video of the ongoing protests playing, as he slips into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. He sits down and proceeds to make a cigarette, lights it and takes the first breath as he joins in on the conversation… 

Ibrahim: The presidential elections are a big scam because I don’t see the military stepping down or giving up power, or working towards a system to establish democracy. Alone the decision allowing religious parties to be formed is a great indication. Just as the massacres that followed since Mubarak left [such as the massacre at Maspero where 45 Copts were killed by the military] are another indication. The number of massacres since Mubarak stepped down far exceeds the massacres committed in all Mubarak’s years of rule.

The regime engineered this system whereby either we allow it to continue unquestioned or we fall into chaos.

Since the 70s the regime has put the political Islamists on a leash to fight against the socialists, communists, leftists and liberals. This has depleted the country’s political reservoir and now the only people left organized are the conservative right wing.

We will have this ongoing game of politics and power where right is fighting left and left is fighting right, while we are losing objective of what we are aspiring for.

The struggle for artists and those seeking freedom of expression will now be more intense. Before we were fighting a regime that didn’t want the truth to come out, now we have powers that want to shape truth on their own terms- namely those using religion as a tool to further their politics-they are showing us where their minds are hoping to go, whether they succeed in that or not remains to be seen.

In another part of Zamalek sits young director Ahmed Abdallah at a 2nd floor table of one of the many cafes. He recently collided with the new order of things when he was denied filming a scene inside a mosque- something that was still permissible under Mubarak…

Ahmed: It’s the same struggle we had to go through during Mubarak’s regime. Even the bureaucracy instilled in the film sector is still the same. All they care about is permits and papers, not about art or helping filmmakers create something new. [He starts stirring his fruit juice in the long glass with his straw] Before the revolution I counted the steps necessary before having a final permission to film on the street. They were 31 steps; some of the steps take you 30 minutes like writing out a request or having it stamped, while other steps may take as long as 4 weeks, such as censorship where you leave your script and weeks later they call saying come and take your script it’s been authorized.

Omar:  But not many movies are being produced right now and maybe that’s a good thing, coz most of what comes out of the commercial Egypt is really a waste of time in the sense of Egypt being the 3rd biggest production country in the world.

I believe half the people in the media business in Egypt should be put in jail [smiles] along with those who have committed massacres against the people. I think so because this is a way of suppressing the people, a way of poisoning, brainwashing and keeping people in a coma.

They need to open up and let people make their movies, else what did the Egyptian people fight for?

Ibrahim: Money is controlling the whole world and money is controlling media in Egypt like everywhere else. Also I don’t think film has any role to play in our society for the past maybe 20 years, since Gulf money has been highly involved in producing cinema in Egypt. They have taken films where they want to go: mindless consumerism and aimless comedies.

Also money is being directed to the big brainwashing machine- TV and you can clearly see that all TV stations are manipulated and ruled by businessmen. So we’re locked in a vicious cycle where it takes us a giant effort to learn about something, or form our own opinions, or think freely.

As for the guy struggling every day for his daily bread, it’s very difficult for him to form his own opinion in the middle of this very efficient brainwashing system.

Big capital has a big interest that the past regime continues managing the country the way it has been managed before and they play their cards accordingly to bring that about.

Omar: There’s so many stories to be told in Cairo, in Sinai, among Egyptians, among Bedouins. Every day in Cairo just going to buy a pack of cigarettes, I feel like I’m being part of a movie, anything can happen. It’s never boring. Taking what is supposed to be a 10 minute taxi drive, I experience more than I do in a month in Denmark.


and the people trying to tell these stories I feel have been suppressed by this corrupt commercial movie business.

Ibrahim: It’s very clear that those living around us in monarchies like KSA and the Gulf states do not want the revolution to achieve its goals, since it’s a clear indication to their countries that they can do the same, and they want to remain in power. They have a lot of money and they’ll be investing in whatever counter-wave to the revolution to make it fail. That’s what they’ve been doing by pouring money on the Salafis & Muslim Brotherhood, who spent incredible amounts of money on the elections.

If Israel considers us an enemy nation then it is in their best interest for Islamists to rise to power and govern society [such] that we remain underdeveloped.

Like the GCC it would scare them more if the revolution succeeded because that would mean facing a strong Egypt, and this they will not allow to happen.

Enemies of the revolution are: 1. Mubarak’s regime 2. His Military Council 3. Religious Parties 4. All those benefitting from the corruption we were in 5. Those who cannot think differently

Ahmed: Now we have I would say hundreds of new talent interested in making films. In the last year alone I can count over 50 new filmmakers directing films. Others are acting, or shooting or doing something else, talent we would have never heard of if it wasn’t for the revolution and them taking to the streets with their cameras.

What is most important is that finally they have found the time to speak their minds and tell their own stories. Lots of stories are not revolution related, but still are in the sense that finally these talents are coming out and starting to make films.

Omar: What needs to be done is for somebody to start picking up on those people, like for example in Denmark we are very privileged because they make an effort in trying to spot talent. They invest a lot of money in training and developing these talents- which is amazing. I believe in many ways Denmark is much more Islamic than so-called Islamic countries because they try to help and it’s what a government should do. If you invest in your citizens you invest in building a great society to live in, be a good example for others, and make it a life worth living.

But when that is said, I think there is much more talent in Egypt than in Denmark, of course it’s a much bigger country. But Egypt used to attract artists; a Mecca of intellectuals and artists from around the world, and I feel Cairo still has that power. But people are so suppressed now. Because here in the Arab world intelligence, wisdom and the power and ability to open peoples’ minds and give them an opportunity to use their free mind and free spirit- all these things are suppressed in this part of the world. Because free thinking and people that ask questions are a threat to these governments. All the regimes in the Arab world are like families having power over their countries just for their own [personal] benefit. Any Egyptian government treats the population like it owns the whole country, and people are just slaves put in this world to obey them and their needs.

Even since before the revolution I could see a great deal of potential and talents who were, from my own opinion, working on great projects. I wish there was a way to organize this and make it possible, at least in the sense of not having a government that is working against you so that people may have a chance to succeed.

Ibrahim: Seeing Egyptians take to the streets on the anniversary of the revolution shows how Egyptians will fight for their rights and not give in easily.

Revolutions are realized and lessons are learnt as they are happening, that’s why I think we’re still in the process of revolution.

Especially with the younger generation of revolutionaries growing up and gaining more influence. With 67% of our generation below 30, this makes me optimistic- so we have hope insha’Allah.

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