Documenting the first 18 days of the revolution, Director Ibrahim El Batout and actors and producers Amr Waked and Salah Hana worked together to produce El Shita Elly Fat (The Winter of Discontent). In this eniGma exclusive, the three men reveal to Yehia Darwish how they made it happen.
There is an old Chinese curse/saying that says, “May you live in interesting times.” And Egyptians who lived through the first 18 days of their revolution and beyond can attest that these are, without a doubt, interesting times. From the trials and triumphs of the revolution, emerged change and uncertainty, and the incidents that have become part of Egyptian history.
The new movie Al Shita Elly Fat tells the stories of three Egyptians during the first 18 days of the revolution. The plot follows the three characters, as the events unfold; a rebellious computer programmer Amr, played by Egyptian super star Amr Waked, a torturous State Security (SS) officer Adel, played by Salah Hanafy, and a female TV anchor Farah, played by up and coming actress Farah Youssef. The award-wining writer and director Ibrahim El Batout paints a picture of an uprising full of emotion, providing an unprecedented perspective of the Jan 25 Revolution…
The movie (set to be released on the second anniversary of the January 25 revolution) has already gotten great international buzz, winning awards at several international festivals. The plot of the movie revolves around Amr and Adel’s interactions during the last days of the old regime.
We sat with Batout to uncover his inspiration for the film. As he explains, he got the idea for the movie on the day former President Mubarak stepped down. As Batout recalls, “this was the quickest I’ve ever decided to do a film. I called up Amr, who I didn’t know personally then, and we met in Tahrir and within two hours we called the camera crew and began filming.”
Waked and Hanafy decided to produce the movie, to ensure it was filmed like a high-budget documentary; so the events appear realistic and refined in nature. And so began the creation of one of the most powerful films about the Egyptian revolution. The script was basic, with little planned dialogue so the characters could improvise and make the words their own. Most of the shots were done in public, which was risky, but gave the film a realistic touch. As Batout explains, “while production companies were laying people off en-masse, we were hiring and working and overcoming huge hurdles.”
Thankfully the hard work paid off and the film received a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival and the Critics’ Award in Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival in France. The film also received great reviews at various film festivals in Brussels, Sao Paulo, Chicago, London and Stockholm. As Hanafy explains “the movie successfully managed to transmit the energy that we received from Tahrir Square, creating a feeling of euphoria amongst the viewers.”
Explaining that it was the realistic nature of the movie, that captured the energy of Tahrir; “all the people working on the film belong to the revolutionary movement,” illustrates Waked. “This was critical to the theme of the movie, as it conveyed a sense of hope and misery all at once. Everything we were filming was happening in tandem with real life. When you choose to portray reality, it is hard to detach. That was the real challenge with this movie.”
For Hanafy, however, it was a bit different. In the movie Hanafy is no revolutionary; he is a SS officer working against the revolution. “The moment we decided to film I started doing my homework. I studied the CIA’s and FBI’s interrogation and brainwashing techniques in depth. We constructed the character by tracing his education and career path, and I used the help of a very good acting coach,” he explains. “Ibrahim was patient with me, as we made countless mock acts of relevant hypothetical situations. We also spoke to a psychologist, SS officers and people who were tortured, so I could learn everything about this character. The tricky part for me was confronting Amr Waked, who is a world-class actor and my friend, on screen. Yet thankfully it came out really well.”
It was this team spirit that made the movie work. The cast and crew came together in no time, overcoming the difficult circumstances of the country and their own differences on how to document this historic event. “It took a rare commitment and a miracle to have it come together this way,” recalls Batout.
Yet the three filmmakers are not optimistic about the current state of Egyptian cinema. “Egyptian slapstick comedy movies will continue making money, although they dont respect the time or the mind of the audience,” says Batout, who is determined to keep on making movies that challenge this fact.
Hanafy agrees, and describes the recipe for success for Egyptian movies: “It is very simple really, hire a big name actor to play the antagonist and spice things up with a sexually-charged story line, and it will make money and perhaps even gain awards.”
Waked adds that “at the end of the day, the issue is what you want of the film. For us, we want people to think and discuss ideas through our work. This is our asset. We feel movies should not be just 80% accounting and 20% inspiration.”
“This current phase in Egypt is where everyone shows their true colours; revealing who is in favour of freedom and who isn’t. Art is how protesters and activists fought the regime, as Tahrir was filled with poetry and paintings and genuine creativity. And we will continue to do so. Artists expose and judge the wrong-doers. We are optimistic about the future but fear the current confrontations between the protesters and the government will be violent. But victory will be ours for sure,” he adds.
Hanafy adds that, now we will be seeing the rise of opposition art like what comes out of Iran. “And they are the best movies that we see in the international film festivals,” he says. “We will have a richer industry here but as always there will be hurdles, such as difficulty getting filming permits and such.”
“Amr and I have been trying to market some movies from Europe, in a bid to show the people different kind of films rather than the overly commercialised Superhero movies we get from Hollywood. Past projects of ours have included local movies that promote involvement and bettering of our society in the areas of the environment and social action, as well as women’s rights like the documentary Women from the South, which displayed success stories of women in Menya,”adds Hanafy.
When I ask about censorship, the three men agree that Egyptians will never again allow any party to take their independence and freedom. In the end the people will go to the truth, like choosing to watch private cable channels rather than government TV and objectively criticising those in power.
For their future projects, we can expect them to be every bit as controversial. Waked and Hanafy are working on several films in their capacities as actors and producers; one of them with the Director Atef Hatata and another film with Batout. Meanwhile, Batout is working on a new film called Ali Goat, which focuses on a man who falls in love with a goat, that he believes is the reincarnation of a woman he loved who died in the revolution.
As the revolution continues, the trio will continue to document what is going on, through their words and actions in order to keep carrying the message of the revolution. Their work has not only given them a sense of pride and achievement; but also immortality cemented in Egyptian movie history, for the generations yet to come.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Alaa Taher