'It is a film about everyone who discovers himself': Egyptian director Amr Salama on Sheikh Jackson

Ati Metwaly , Sunday 24 Sep 2017

Director Amr Salama discussed the making of Sheikh Jackson after it opened El-Gouna Film Festival, adding that it mirrors the identity crises many young people go through

Amr Salama
Amr Salama in an interview with Dina El Guindy for a Kol Youm (Every Day) programme on satellite TV channel ONTV (Photo: still from the programme on Youtube)

“Sheikh Jackson is about a religious man who loves Michael Jackson. This is the shortest way we can describe the film,” film director Amr Salama told Dina El-Guindy in an episode of Kol Youm (Every Day) on satellite TV channel ONTV, hosted by Amr Adib.

The interview was held in El-Gouna resort following the opening of the inaugural edition of El-Gouna Film Festival, 22 September, where Salama’s Sheikh Jackson had its Arab world and Egypt premiere.

The festival continues until 29 September.

Speaking of the filmmaking process, the director explained that the idea of the film was presented to him by Omar Khaled, the film’s co-writer, three years ago and that he liked it instantly.

“The protagonist is a very profound character and resembles many of us,” Salama said in the interview. “There was time when I liked Michael Jackson very much, as well as there were years that I was very religious, yet maybe not to that extent.”

In an earlier interview, given after the film's screening in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Salama even called the film “a love letter to my [younger] self. It is like turning a page on the long phase of my life and times that I went through the identity crisis as well.”

In this sense Salama considers the film as “very therapeutic. In some scenes I put the same dialogues that I had with my own therapist, portrayed in the film by Basma,” Salama revealed in Toronto.

In his El-Gouna interview, the director underscored that many of TIFF's audience found in the film — their own internal struggles and trials to resolve their identity crises, whether relative to religion or other life aspects.

Salama summed up the film as a work “about everyone who discovers himself. And at the end, it is also a film about accepting who we are.”

The director also pointed to one of the actors in the film, Ahmed Malek, who portrayed Sheikh Jackson in his younger age when he was fascinated by the American pop icon. Salama said that the young actor didn’t have an ability to experience the years of Michael Jackson’s glory.

“Malek was discovering Michael during the making of the film. In this sense, many scenes in the film where he uncovers the legendary musician and starts loving him, mirror Malek’s real life.”

Ahmed El-Fishawy portrays Sheikh Jackson in his older age.

Both actors, El-Fishawy and Malek, invested a lot in the making of the film, undertaking dance lessons daily for several hours, for three months, to be able to capture some move characteristic to Michael Jackson’s performances.

In his talk with El-Guindy, Salama expressed his appreciation for the cast and crew. “Each actor is a different person and expresses himself differently, and I have to deal with each in a unique way depending on his personality, ability to receive directions, talent, etc.”

Salama added that regardless of the patterns of work that each actor practices, he considers himself very lucky to have worked with a very talented team that included young people who joined the cast as volunteers just because they liked the idea behind the film.

Salama also shared his thoughts about the 1st edition of the El-Gouna Film Festival, calling it a “very ambitious festival that aims at having an impact on the international level.”

The brainchild of Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, El-Gouna Film Festival is held in the tourist resort on Egypt's Red Sea coast, which was developed by Samih Sawiris and Orascom Hotels and Development.

The opening ceremony was attended by Sheikh Jackson's large crew in addition to many other stars of Egypt's film industry, including actors and actresses such as Adel Imam, Sherif Mounir, Khaled El-Nabawy, Ezzat Abo Auf, Yousra, Elham Shahin, Hend Sabry, Dalia El-Beheiry, Nahed El-Sebai and Hala Shiha, among others. The guests also included a number of Arab and international cinema personalities.

The festival honoured three remarkable personalities this year, Egyptian actor Adel Imam, Lebanese film critic Ibrahim Al-Aris and American actor Forest Whitaker, each with a Career Achievement Award.

In the official press release issued by El-Gouna Film Festival following the opening, Samih Sawiris, stated: “We are happy to have all of you with us to witness the first edition of the festival. We hope this event sends a message to regional and international artists that El-Gouna Film Festival will honour true cinema and talents around the globe.”

The festival continues with numerous films from Egypt, the Arab world and international scene, in addition to workshops.

Check the festival full programme below:

PROGRAMME: El-Gouna Film Festival, 23-25 September

PROGRAMME: El-Gouna Film Festival, 26-29 September

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