Was it difficult going against the mainstream?
Yes, but it would have not been as successful if our films were not seen by the public eye. To be different you must first carve a space for yourself in the market, not orbit in the outer constellations.
How did you discover your passion for cinema?
It actually started with theatre. I fell in love with theatre and classic plays so I naturally enrolled in acting courses. It was only when I had gone to university in London that I became more drawn to cinema and filmmaking.
‘Clash’ exceeded all expectations worldwide; did you expect this huge critical acclaim and financial success?
I’ve had my fingers crossed for it to receive such plaudits, but it definitely surpassed my expectations. I feel like this film still has places to go, so I don’t believe it’s over yet. The biggest battle in my opinion was the domestic one. The release and success of this film in
Egypt meant more to me than anything.
What are the main obstacles that faced this movie?
Everything; from getting it financed and shot to forging it in such a way that would harvest support from the public opinion, as well as managing to get it through the censorship. Yet, I believe such opposition is the reason the film proved so successful.
How does the West observe the industry in Egypt?
I think the West has pretty much forgotten Egyptian cinema because we have been self-isolated for the past three decades. In the fifties and sixties, it was the norm to find Egyptian films in top festivals like Cannes and Venice. Now it’s a rare thing that happens once in a blue moon, and that’s what we’re trying to change.
You created a revolution in the Egyptian cinema through ‘Film Clinic’, what were you rebelling against?
It was not an attempt to rebel per se. I like to think of it as “evolution” rather than “revolution”. The digital age meant that directors like Ibrahim Al Batout and Ahmed Abdalla can make films like ‘Ein Shams’ and ‘Microphone’ with small digital cameras or DSLRs. No big distributor was going to get in the way of them making a name for themselves and building an audience, even if it’s a small audience that grows with time. Meanwhile, popular cinema was also suffering a perpetual repetition of the same formulas, each time harvesting less successful results, when all the audience really needs is creativity and fresh ideas. Film Clinic is all supplying that.
A movie has an unparalleled power to influence culture. Do you find this power abused by some filmmakers?
I don’t believe filmmakers abuse their power for the sake of negative influence like politiciansmsometimes do, but they can do it for personal gain. Dishonest filmmakers are good at that, but the audience eventually feels their dishonesty. So in general, good filmmakers can only leave a positive influence on the world. The only shame is that filmmakers have far less capacity to do so than people really think. In fact, Television has much greater influence on the public psyche than filmmakers do; at least on the short term.
You were recently chosen to join the advisory committee of ‘Cairo International Film Festival’, what should we expect this year?
It’s my second year in this committee, mainly I handle and advise on Cairo Film Connection, the co-production platform of the festival.
As a producer, how do you decide when an idea is worth making into an entire film?
Some ideas are great but don’t necessarily make great or successful films. Like many people who pitch me a joke as the premise of a movie. I have the experience to know that when fully executed, it will be repetitive and empty after the first few laughs. The same can be said of dramatic premises, which can turn into sentimental melodrama. So I pick ideas that move something in me, and that at the same time can be executed well.
As a writer, do the characters you write reflect your personality?
Not necessarily, but often some of them will reflect aspects of my personality, or maybe my alter-ego.
What’s the biggest obstacle the cinema industry is facing today?
Piracy and lack of support from the government.
You are one of the few who encourage and support young talents, what’s the importance of introducing fresh blood? How do you advise them?
It’s so important to tell young talents the truth, and not be too complimentary. Push them to always work harder on the script and on choosing their elements and advise them against rushing into production. That’s part of my job as a producer.
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