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A Weapon of Choice: Capturing reality and hopes

Florence Tran, director of 'Une Arme de Choix' (A Weapon of Choice), shares her impressions about a new era that has opened for independent Egyptian cinema

Dina Bakr, Thursday 17 May 2012
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"I met a multitude of Egyptian directors. I chose a few and incorporated them into my film. I chose those specific directors because they have touched me on a human level; I was moved by their efforts, their films and their choices. Each of them brings a different perspective," reveals Florence Tran, the French director, who first arrived in Egypt in 2008.

The filmmakers she met made Tran realise that change was about to happen. In her documentary 'Une Armee de Choix' (A Weapon of Choice) she follows the directors who take their cameras to document participate in change in Egypt. The film includes Ibrahim El-Batout, Ayten Amin, Wael Omar, Khaled Abdalla, Amr Salama, Mohamed Diab and Karim El-Shenawy.

A Weapon of Choice takes place between May and December 2011. In it, Tran collects stories of the revolution and shows how the horizons of artistic creativity have widened. "The revolution has moved things on a cultural level. Look at the number of films, poems or songs inspired by the revolutionary events," says film director Wael Omar.

Prior to the revolution, Mohamed Diab completed his feature film 678, in which he addresses sexual harassment in public transportation. In Tran's documentary, she highlights macho culture in a society dominated by men. "Directors like Diab were already announcing a revival: a struggle for freedom suffocated by 30 years of dictatorship and cultural oppression," Tran comments.

Wael Omar appears as a narrator in the first part of the documentary. As he walks through Cairo's streets, he passes next to graffiti portraying martyrs and revolutionaries. He stops in front of graffiti showing Mubarak and Tantawi. "Egyptians realised that the camera is a weapon of truth and of power. When I start filming, people started coming to share their stories and concerns. They wanted to contribute with their message. It's just a cry for help," Tran adds.

Florence Tran also discusses the feature film Last Winter by Ibrahim El-Batout in which he shows the brutality of the police during the first 18 days of the revolution. The film shows a shocking scene where a prisoner urinates while standing, not being allowed to go to the bathroom.

"I was born in 1963. I was taught for 20 years that Gamal Abdel Nasser was our first president. The truth is that the first president was General Mohamad Naguib," El-Batout commented after the film's screening, which took place at the French Institute on 8 May.

Ayten Amin is another director and protagonist of Tran's documentary. Confronted by police violence for the first time, she wanted to understand who these men were. Though she admits that it was very difficult to communicate with them, she managed to film footage that includes interviews with a few anonymous officers.

From the oppressor, A Weapon of Choice moves to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, who became increasingly visible on the political scene. Tran chose to show Mohammad Tolba, founder of Salafyo Costa (a group of young Salafists). "I think that Salafism is a mental and psychological occupation, which is stronger and more worrying than geographical occupation," Tran comments smiling.

The transition from one moment to the next accelerates and becomes shocking when the director addresses Mosireen, a non-profit media collective that shot footage of events, including deaths, mortuaries and coffins, preserving images of revolutionaries who fell one after the other since 25 January 2011.

"Official television never ceases to attack the revolution. It showed Tahrir Square empty when it was full of people. It was the media war as well. This is one of the triggers for the creation of Mosireen, that includes people filming what really happened. That is our key weapon," says Khaled Abdallah, one of the directors from Mosireen.

The new faces presented in A Weapon of Choice mark a new chapter in Egyptian film, a chapter that aims to capture reality as much as popular hopes.

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