Egypt’s Brink of Dreams wins award at Cannes Film Festival

The Brink of Dreams is a documentary that follows the journey of a group of young girls in the remote southern village of Deir Al-Barsha, as they pursue their artistic passions by forming an all-female street theatre troupe, blooming into rising actresses, dancers and singers. On the other hand, their families and local community resent their actions, which defy their orthodox beliefs. The enriching adaptation was awarded the Golden Eye Award at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, making it the first Egyptian film ever to win this award. eniGma magazine had the chance to sit down with its dynamic directors, Ayman El Amir and Nada Riyadh, to dive into the tough challenges faced by their visionary documentary, the true meaning behind their outstanding achievement, and future plans after this success.

Nada Riyadh, Nicolas Philibert & Ayman El Amir

Each one of us is born with our own special dream, a certain hope or desire that makes us feel free and powerful, with a sense of purpose echoing from the depths of our hearts. However, some places in this world are governed by sacred traditions that shackle these melodic soul tunes to prevent them from reaching the outside world. So, an inner struggle arises in the minds of wild youth between their desires and the taboos of Middle Eastern culture. The Brink of Dreams captures the essence of this dilemma in an emotional adaptation of what it means to be a visionary girl in the south of Egypt.

The Brink of Dreams

Such a remarkable project couldn’t have come so far without talented orchestrators to guide this symphony to success. These maestros are the gifted directors who spent over four years shooting and fine-tuning the film. El Amir is both a filmmaker and script consultant who has worked for numerous programs including TorinoFilmLab. Riyadh is a director and screenwriter who focuses mainly on exploring the depth and complexity of the human psyche and relationships. Moreover, they previously co-directed the short fiction film FAKH (THE TRAP), which was selected for La Semaine de la Critique of Festival de Cannes in 2019.

The phenomenal journey began in 2017, when El Amir and Riyadh worked for a feminist organisation in Cairo that encouraged the artistic creations of women from disadvantaged neighbourhoods. While travelling in southern Egypt in the village of El Barsha, they came across a free-spirited street theatre troupe called Panorama El Barsha. El Amir and Riyadh were amazed by the fact that talented 15 and 16-year-old girls can produce an interactive street theatre with such freedom and dynamism. At this moment, they decided that these girls were special and that their gifts needed to be shared with the world.

The Brink of Dreams

However, the process of building trust between the directors and all relevant parties, including the girls, their parents and the local community, was quite challenging. El Amir illustrated: “In the beginning, there were so many questions about us and the project, which was really important because establishing trust and cooperation requires channels of clear communication.”

This documentary is all about filming normal life activities and portraying the community’s true nature. So, The Brink of Dreams didn’t revolve around acting in a sense, but more or less strived to be a reflection of reality by eliminating any sort of estrangement in front of the camera and fusing with the fabric of society.

This mindset led the girls to believe in the cinematic tool as an ideal means to express themselves and pursue their artistic dreams. Moreover, their simple acts together and expressing themselves created their own internal community, which empowered them to go beyond the norms of their conservative background. This talent exposure unveiled the true potential of southern talents to the directors, as Riyadh clarified: “The south of Egypt is so rich with its diverse artistic heritage that every day over there, you get exposed to lovely new songs and poems compiled by extraordinary talents who need multiple films in the future to fully capture their abilities.”

The shooting process also involved workshops where the girls shared their ideas to contribute to the story, such as daily family arguments and the struggles they face to pursue their future ambitions. Patriarchy was portrayed in several forms over the course of the documentary, as it didn’t involve violence but rather mockery and manipulation by partners and community members. After 400 hours of rushes, filming and editing were finally finalised, and the documentary was ready to be shared with the world.

The impact was unexpected, as the documentary was supported by the TorinoFilmLab Audience Design Fund and the Aflamuna Impact Fund. The Brink of Dreams then received the honour of becoming an official nomination at the 77th Cannes Film Festival for a Golden Eye Award. Riyadh and El Amir were excited but didn’t expect to win at all, and they considered getting to the world stage an achievement in itself.

However, the open creative experience gave the girls so much confidence in the success of their work. El Amir stressed this point: “The success of this movie was crucial to the girls because their experience with street theatre was filled with bullying and demeaning comments. Despite the disappointing results of the first day of Cannes, the girls felt that they would still go home with an award showing how much self-confidence they have gained over the span of four years.”

This unprecedented glory will be followed by presenting The Brink of Dreams at several film festivals next autumn, then going through a special screening, followed by a full release in Egyptian cinema. This isn’t where the dreams of El Amir and Riyadh stop, as they believe that there are many more stories to be told in southern Egypt. Al Amir explained: “Our next project features a novel about southern Egypt, and we will give a special focus in the future to the artistic hopes and dreams of males in that region.”

El Amir and Riyadh told an unspoken story and ventured into the unknown, hoping to enlighten the world about the challenges that young girls face in Egypt. Their admirable bravery and inspiring creativity led them to success, not just by receiving prestigious international awards but also by giving our youth the right to dream and hope for a better future, and we personally can’t wait to see what the future has in store for them.