Can you tell us a bit about the situation of Sudanese minorities in Egypt?
The situation of Sudanese refugees in Egypt is like the situation of any other refugees; like Syrians and Indonesians actually, or simple Egyptians themselves like Basma and her family, all have similar issues and dreams and ambitions and simple life requirements like “food, roof over their heads, getting married”… And this is what I’m concerned to talk about. As for their numbers, about 40,000 refugees, according to UN, came in Egypt to seek for a job or treatment or run away from war and oppression by the former President Omar Elbasher. The question of refugees in general is a massive international issue that needs to be tackled more openly to uncover the ugly reality they are living in – and I mean in any place not just in Egypt. As for Egypt itself, I think they don’t have the best situation due to the circumstances of Egypt as a country.
Is what happens to Halima common?
What happens to Halima in the film is from my imagination as a director and writer, and this happened because of a dramatic escalation within a specific story. I can’t say that every time someone who is non-Egyptian goes into a house to do something they will get beaten up, so I think that what happened to Halima is not a common incident, but definitely happens on a certain scale in some local areas. Egyptian society has become violent and racist especially lately. I remember from 2 months ago there was a Sudanese student who was bullied by some other schoolboys. This incident was recorded and shared on social media and everyone in Egypt watched the video. This is a shame to all of us as Egyptians and I also recall that the issue was tackled by authorities, but I think that this issue needs more than this because it was just one recorded accident! What about all those that aren’t?
Can you tell us about the filming conditions? Location, logistics, casting…
It is hard to make a film in Egypt especially these days due to the political conditions we are living in. Any director must begin somewhere and I wanted to begin at this moment, and my beginning was Henet Ward. I decided to produce this film at my own cost and not to depend on funds as they consume time. After the production phase, other companies joined to help me in post-production stage. Because we had limited resources, we needed to spend the money on basic requirements like locations, equipment and permits, and it helped that the crew worked with no fees because they believed in the film and in me. The actors used their actual clothes except for some small items. Most of the props came from my house, my crew members’ houses or from the houses of the residents of the area. I wanted to shoot in real locations to document the Egyptian society and to reflect how the local class lives in Egypt and shoot their life, so I chose this historical place that is near the pyramids to tell my story. The house had a very important role in my story, and this house specifically had a character because of its space, its numerous windows and doors, and that helped me achieve my goal to mix between documentary and fiction style and to use the natural light – I depended completely on the sunlight and neon LEDs that already existed in the apartment. Besides, we shot this film with one lens, the 35mm lens, because it is the closest to the human eye and that made all the shots seem real and normal. And, as I said before, to observe this world in a realistic and documentary style but in a fiction film, all the actors in my film are non-actors, and working with them was very interesting because they don’t have any background in acting, and this makes them more spontaneous, like the way they talk in their daily lives. I had many challenges when making this film, specifically I wanted to make it with non-actors because this is the reason behind choosing a real Sudanese henna painter – I also used her real name in the film.
What is your background in filmmaking?
In my childhood I liked watching movies and my elder brother bought video tapes. He liked American movies and I watched them with him. I always had a passion towards movies and how to make films. After high school I wanted to study in High Cinema Institute but I couldn’t, so I looked for alternative studies which was the Cinema Palace that belongs to the Ministry of Culture and offers 4-month workshops for filmmakers. There I met someone who helped me work in the industry; he gave me a job as assistant director in a TV series, then I worked in commercial films, but I had a constant feeling of not interacting with these films. ..Then I wanted to work in independent films and that same time in Egypt, the new wave of independent cinema started to appear with new directors. I met Sherif Elbendary and I worked with him on his first feature film Aly the Goat and Ibrahim, then I worked with others directors who belong to this new wave and after all this I made my first short film Henet Ward.
Do you hope to tackle more issues in Egypt?
Definitely I want to tackle more issues in Egypt. We have a lot of issues in Egypt and society has many layers, I have more stories to tell about the minorities and locals. I have two other projects, another short and a feature. The short is about the deteriorating relationships between married couples and the feature is about transsexual girls in Egypt and the issues they face to prove their true identity and the fight they have with the religious institutions and how they deal with them.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
I love short films because of the sense of freedom that I always receive while making them. The short format allows me to be free in everything and has a challenge that I love because there is always a story that you want to tell intensively within a certain time frame, that makes you more engaged with the film and its characters, and for me it is a very important type of cinema… And there is always a lower risk in making a short movie. In terms of budget, less time, fewer people behind the camera. In short formats, anyone can make a film as long as they have a digital camera and the right idea. It is a great way to learn by experiencing, making mistakes, repeating and growing through it and developing yourself as a filmmaker. I would like to continue making short films because I always have ideas and a narration method for those short films.