'Experimental Summer': An imaginary journey into filmmaking

Hadeer El-Mahdawy , Saturday 30 Sep 2017

Experimental Summer is being screened in Cairo's art house cinema Zawya

Experimental Summer
(Photo: Still from the film Experimental Summer)

Currently screened at Cairo’s art house cinema Zawya, Experimental Summer (Seef Tagreebi) talks about Zeinab and Mahmoud’s journey as they look for copies of the first independent film produced in Egypt in the 1980s.

In their fantasy journey into filmmaking as they try to find the original film, said to be confiscated or banned because it was made outside of Egypt's official cinema body, they find a number versions of Experimental Summer as well as creating their own.

The opening of the film, Wednesday, 27 September, saw a full house.

The film is produced by OTAKU Digital film and won a 2016 post-production grant from the Doha Film Institute and was shown in the Forum Expanded section of the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2017.

Experimental Summer is the first long film for 27-year-old director Mahmoud Lotfy, who is also one of the main characters in the film.

Lotfi previously made three short films: Starting Dream in Street in 2008; Silly Fiction Film in 2009; and Nescafe and Cigarettes in 2012.

He studied filmmaking in the Jesuit Cinema School, graduating in 2010, while his original major was in business administration.

As Lotfy underscores, Experimental Summer reflects the identity, language, and place of a group of filmmakers.

The making of the experiment

"In 2012, I thought about making my first long low-budget film. At that time I had a script I wrote titled Experimental Summer, that I was no longer excited to direct, so I decided to make a film about the film that I do not want to make," Lotfy told Ahram Online.

At that time, Lotfy was angry at films, TV series, and advertising that look all the same, so he wanted to do something new.

"For me, if you are not making an experiment, then you are not making a film; you are only repeating a format that you already guarantee its success. So our film, in that regard, was experimental on many levels," said Lotfy.

Among the unconventional components in the film, Lotfy enumerates the ancient Egyptian calendar instead of the Christian common calendar.

Technically, the film provided a different way of shooting, telling the story and editing. According to Lotfy, the crew used digital medium to shoot, but in its initial form.

"The digital camera is developed now to the extent that it is used in the mainstream cinema, but we wanted to use them in their old form."

Lotfy decided to also edit the material differently, editing while shooting, and not after finishing the shooting.

Different versions of Experimental Summer

The film has different themes: it is about Downtown's Bab El-Luk area; about fatherhood; the Egyptian revolution; and about the process of independent filmmaking under the state and mainstream control, among other several plot lines.

"At the beginning I wanted to make a film about the films that have not been made, but while shooting and editing, I decided to make a film about the films that have been made," Lotfy added.

According to Lotfy, we do not know much about Egyptian filmmaking history: "Many of the films do not exist anymore, either lost or burnt as a result of negligence."

Lotfy aimed at showing different versions of the same film, so each person in the audience would receive it differently.

The idea of different versions of Experimental Summer inspired an African director, after watching the film in Berlin, to make his own version of the film when he goes back to his country, Lotfy mentioned.

The journey into the expressive face on the poster

In the film, the characters are talking about a poster that was distributed widely on the walls of Downtown Cairo. The poster refers to the original version of the film they are looking for.

"As part of the shooting we pasted the poster on many walls and cafes we usually hang out at. We had no intention of marketing; however, the photo of the girl in that poster engraved in people's mind," Lotfy added.

But the story behind the photo is unique in its own right. Lotfy found the photo in an antiques shop in 2011, and he started a journey to look for the girl in the photo, even before he began working on the film.

"For one year and a half I was searching for the girl. I found her on Facebook. I sent her the photo, but she did not reply," Lotfy added.

"The photo imposed itself, a story emerged around it, the journey of looking for the photo was similar to the journey of looking for lost films; and by coincidence one of the crew knew the girl, so we contacted her again when we finished the film. She was so happy with the film," Lotfy said.

Lotfy intends to make a screening in the country where the girl on the poster lives now, as an act of appreciation.

Meanwhile, Lotfy is now working on his second fictional experiment.

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