Mohammed Diab has become one of the Middle East’s most acclaimed screen writers and directors. His work has gone international, with praise coming his way from such globally renowned artists as Paolo Coelho and Tom Hanks. Diab’s unwavering confidence is coupled with an understated demeanor that endears him to his many fans and admirers. eniGma’s Mahmoud Al Badry caught up with Diab to get a glimpse of his cinematic journey, the state of the movie industry, and his own plans for the future.
How did you start your script-writing and directing career?
Growing up, I always knew I was artistically talented, but I never really put my finger on what my talent was. While working in a bank, I had a bunch of movie ideas and I started talking about them to some of my clients at the time, who praised most of them. That gradually pushed me to quit my job and embark on a writing adventure by putting my ideas on paper. When I was done, my first script was made into a movie called Ahlam Haakeekeyya (Real Dreams). This led me to go to America to pursue film studies for a year.Afterwards, four of my scripts were made into movies. I decided to personally direct my fifth movie, 678, since the vision of the script writer is different than that of the director.
Were you surprised by the impact that 678 left on viewers?
I was really lucky. When I write film scripts, I always try to think of the films that cross over. The most common factor in my scripts is the focus on the human condition. While I was preparing 678, I thought that the film had a purpose, but I never imagined that it would have such a massive cross-over appeal. It got to a point where the movie sold over 300 thousand tickets in France, with the country’s Minister of Justice praising it. In Egypt, since the movie’s release coincided with the 25th of January Revolution, it got a decent chance to really alter people’s general behavior towards the country’s sexual harassment issue.
In your opinion, what are the different ways movies can affect people?
The beauty of cinema is that it allows you to see things from other people’s point of view. I matured a lot as a person because of cinema; I became a lot less judgmental of other people. Let’s say there’s this person that you’re not particularly fond of. Once you get to see things from his perspective, or be able to walk in his shoes, you’ll begin viewing that person in a completely different light. This is why cinema is so powerful. It truly manages to change people’s opinions by providing them with empathetic portrayals of things and types of people that they might have previously disliked. This is only one side of why I love directing cinema so much. The other part is just the general exposure that you get out of the industry. You truly get to shed light on aspects of society that many people haven’t really put that much thought into. Cinema allows for an incredible opportunity to bring important issues to the fore.
How much do your personal opinions impact the movies you write or direct?
This is always a truly wonderful challenge, and is among my favorite elements of movie-making. You essentially dive in with ideas that aren’t your own, and try as much as you can to be fair to a point of view that isn’t yours. Research is truly key in this aspect. No matter how one tries to fully integrate the experiences of others into the film, though, there is nothing called a director without a certain dominating point of view. The director’s agency will always be very evident throughout the writing, shooting and editing processes. Plus, any work of art in the world underscores its creator’s chief idea, that sole inkling that pulls the viewers to the most original, biased inner thoughts.
In terms of Egyptian cinema, what would you say needs to be improved?
Most of the Egyptian cinematic components are excellent. Still, the one thing that needs to be developed is recognizing that it takes a lot of time to perfect any work of art; the processes involved should never be rushed.
Have you considered writing and directing foreign films?
Yes I have. I have already signed a contract with an American production agency. I would also love to work in France given its very unique culture. I’m of the opinion, however, that there is truly no bigger minefield for cinema than Egypt. You could go down to the street on any given day with your camera, and come back with an unlimited supply of drama and comedy.