Long story short

Nahed Nasr , Tuesday 2 Jan 2024

Nahed Nasr takes stock of the short film fare at El Gouna Film Festival

Egyptian short films at GFF

 

In its sixth round, 21 films participated in the short film competition at El Gouna Film Festival (GFF), including four films by Egyptian directors, three of which were world premieres: Sixty Egyptian Pounds by the acclaimed director Amr Salama, which was the festival’s opening film; But Not Forgotten by Gehad Alam Eldin; Let Us Play Yesterday by Menna Ekram; and  Ahmed Sobhy’s Objects Are Closer Than They Appear, which premiered at Clermont-Ferrand film festival. The four films share an interest in the influence of the past on the characters’ present, but each has a distinct narrative or artistic element.

In Objects Are Closer Than They Appear, Sobhy’s debut short, the director, who is also the screenwriter, editor and lead actor, uses the one-shot technique to express the vicious circle in which the characters revolve, which in the broader picture expresses the director’s generation and social class. “I am preoccupied with the concerns of my generation and my class, the middle class, which is being ravaged by changes that have led to its decline and confusion about its identity. The way they deal with their reality, their ongoing financial crises, their concept of family, and how these entanglements create a lot of complications, are all interesting.”

Sobhy says the idea of the film began in a vague feeling of frustration among his generation, which led him to trace the complex circumstances of their childhood, which became more complex in their adolescence due to the radical changes that the country went through, all the way to the present moment, which is witnessing changes that are no less severe.

“The gradual development that the character of this generation, of which I consider myself a representative, went through, is reflected in the film through the characters of the family members and the dynamics of the relationships between them. They do not face their crises or their consequences, but rather decide to act as if nothing has happened. Ignoring problems makes them worse, and that in turn leads to more neglect. This is exactly the middle class’s approach to dealing with its crises. It is similar to the myth of Sisyphus. The bitter insistence on repeating what has proven futile. This is one of the axes of the film’s dramatic development,” he explains.

In Objects Are Closer Than They Appear, after his date failed due to a visa card malfunction, Naeem, played by Ahmed Sobhy,  goes to his sister’s house to borrow some money, only to discover that his sister has been robbed, causing Naeem to go on an emotional rollercoaster ride that will force him to face his feelings of shame. As the writer and director of his first short fiction film, Sobhy says that he tried to separate the two roles.

“As a writer, I tried to be faithful to the Sisyphean dramatic escalation, which reflects my vision of my generation but also partly reflects my personal experience, through situations I experienced and characters who influenced me. Rhythm was an important element in the script, as I was doing a montage-like process while writing, so it took a long time to develop the script.”

As a director, he eventually felt that a single shot was the ideal solution to highlight the escalation of events experienced by the characters and their complex relationships. “It was wonderful that viewers and critics were able to connect with the characters and events, without being distracted by the technique, meaning that the one-shot technique was not of interest as much as the goal of using it, and this is precisely what I was seeking.” Objects Are Closer Than They Appear stars Ahmed Sobhy, Mona Ragab, Mahmoud Elwakil, Nada Elkamel, Yostina Hany, and Adam Ali. It is produced by Marwa Tammam and Khaled Moeit, cinematography by Mostafa Sheshtawy, and sound by Mohamed Eltaweel.

 

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The story of Sixty Egyptian Pounds by acclaimed director Amr Salama is inspired by 60 Geneh, a song by trap artist Ziad Zaza, who is also the lead actor, which in turn is inspired by the story of his life and upbringing. “I always had a great desire to make a music video for a rapper, that would be dramatic in structure and based on a story written by the rapper himself. I loved the song 60 Pounds by Ziad Zaza, so I asked him to tell me where the story came from and to tell me more about his life, which is what inspired me to write the film. Of course, it was quite an adventure,” says Amr Salasma.

Sixty Egyptian Pounds is about an aspiring rapper who along with the rest of his family has been suffering at the hands of his abusive father, his only escape being his knack for writing lyrics. When tensions reach boiling point, the young man takes it upon himself to end his family’s suffering once and for all.

Regarding his experience with Zaza as an actor, Salama says that he thinks most rap artists are great performers and have raw talent, including Ziad who was flexible and worked hard on the role. “He’s talented, that was always clear to me.” With few words and a lot of tension, the film relentlessly grabs the viewer’s attention. According to the director, the film is an emotional outburst that doesn’t need words. “It was playing in my mind as a series of images, but the dialogue came later. Making a short film is a very liberating experience which made me freely implement all the ideas I had in mind.”

Salama thinks that rap is an important voice for young people who have no other way to express themselves. “In most rap songs, the author is the singer himself, and he only seeks to please himself with the lyrics of the song. All you need is a laptop to have the opportunity to express yourself and your generation.” Sixty Egyptian Pounds stars Ziad Zaza, Tarek El Deweri, Hamza Diab, and Rawheya Salem, with cinematography by Ahmed Tarek Bayoumi, editing by Ahmed Hafez, sound by Ahmed Sabbour, and is produced by Beatroot Records and Cinerama Films.

 

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Set against in a convent school, Let Us Play Yesterday, directed by Menna Ekram and written by Yomna Khattab, weaves a narrative that resonates with both past and present. In a daring departure from convention, the film captures an incident in which students boldly challenge established rules and a riveting portrayal of the clash between youthful rebellion and accepted norms emerges.

The film is inspired by a short story by Yomna Khattab, who is also the film’s screenwriter. “I graduated from a school run by nuns, and this experience had a great impact on me. The film is about how our generation shared the same teenage traumas, regardless of the kind of school.” Both Menna and Yomna are writers-directors in other film projects, but the experience of working together on this film was not a challenge.

“I was so excited and intrigued when Yomna told me about the story. Nada Riyadh and Ayman Al Amir from Felucca Films then joined the team as producers. We worked on the drafts for a while before we went through a monumental development workshop with Robert Bosch, where we got a grant that helped us make the film. Yomna is a well-rounded human, and a very thoughtful filmmaker. It was a privilege to work with her,” says Menna. “I think that there is something very specific about a school run by nuns. The teenage female angst that Sara deals with in the film is portrayed within this context. As millennial women, we had a very common experience as teens in schools, which might be uncommon nowadays. However, this experience is still valid in schools run by nuns with their long standing traditions. I think our motivation was to make a film about the angst we knew and experienced as teenagers.”

Let Us Play Yesterday stars Karima Mansour and Fairouz Saad, with cinematography by Ahmad Jalboush, editing by Amir Ahmed, and sound by Moustafa Shaaban.

 

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But Not Forgotten is a poetic documentary by Gehad Alam Eldin. It is about a young woman who, when she turns 21, suddenly finds herself without her older brother’s protection and without a chance to say goodbye. Thus she reflects on what she would say to him if he were here, but since he isn’t, she must find a way to let him go and find peace. Eventually, she finds a way to move on but wonders if there could be a new kind of relationship between their souls in this world. Though she can’t bring him back, she believes that by living her life fully and honouring his memory, she can maintain a connection with him.

The director chose to express loss, loneliness, and absence, then reconciliation with reality, before arriving at a new formula for communicating with life and death, through a sequence of contemplative shots that reflect the developments of her inner feelings in an effort to engage the viewer in her world. “This film is my journey to search for the invisible through the visible,” Gehad explains. “It is my attempt to retain the presence of absence for as long as possible. Through cinema, I have found a way to keep it alive.” 

 


* A version of this frontpage article of the 2023 Al-Ahram Weekly Yearender appears in print in the 4 January 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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