Filmmaker tackles Egypt’s biggest taboos including socio-politics, sex and religion
CAIRO: Prior to controversial remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI about Islam last month, several rounds of inter-faith dialogue in Egypt had already taken place, particularly in the wake of the vandalizing of a church in Alexandria last year.
Journalist Sherif Nakhla entered the fray when he decided to make a short film touching on inter-faith interactions but with the added bonus of secret love affairs and premarital sex.
“I knew I had to write something challenging, something that I care about so I could work hard, says Nakhla about his debut film entitled “Miraculum, which he wrote, directed and produced.
The story revolves around Hany (Hany Seif) and Farah (Noha El-Ostaz) whose parents are best friends. Hany, who comes from a Christian family, has just finished his master’s degree in the United States, while Farah, who comes from a Muslim family, is a senior at an Egyptian university.
Despite the parents’ close friendship, the premise of a union between Farah and Hany is inconceivable due to religious difference.
But this social barrier is quickly breached a few minutes into the film, when Farah and Hany are seen kissing in the kitchen while their parents watch TV.
Their secret affair is in full swing, as they spend many intimate nights at his bachelor pad. When Farah discovers she’s pregnant, the chain of disturbing events begins to unravel.
At first Farah considers keeping the baby, but soon she realizes that if she doesn’t end her relationship with a Christian she will lose her parents. Her situation is symbolic of the social conundrum some Egyptian youth face today.
“Funny thing is everyone that read it [the screenplay] says, ‘This is my story, how did you know’; people relate, they just don’t talk about it, Nakhla told The Daily Star Egypt.
If one has never experienced anything like this, you will while watching this film. As soon as the movie starts you are sucked in for the whole 28 minutes, living the experience minute-by-minute with Hany and Farah.
Seif, an anchorman on Nile TV and an up-and-coming actor, says he was moved when he first read the script.
“Turning it into film was a great experience; it’s our way of expressing the situation, says the budding actor who appears in “Cinderella a bio-soap opera about the late acting legend Soad Hosny.
Many of the questions this film raises are answered within the body of the dialogue especially in the beginning of the film between the parents. “Law kano nafs el-din, (if only they were the same religion) says Hany’s mother at dinner, summing up the problem in a simple sentence before the events unfold.
Although the film was what Nakhla dubs “guerilla filmmaking – many of the scenes were ad-libbed – the film comes off as rather credible.
Karim Hakim, the director of photography, explains that they used a high definition camera, “a whole new paradigm for digital filming. The only problem is the memory stick they were using had a capacity of only four megabytes, a megabyte a minute, so every four minutes they had to upload the work onto a laptop. But the good side of that was it enabled them to see everything they shot almost immediately.
Director Karim Fanous worked on the editing of the film. In many of the scenes the screen was split in two, showing the parallel lives of the two main characters.
Fanous enjoyed working on the film, saying it was a welcome break from commercial everyday work.
“It is a human story, very intimate, that many Egyptians can relate to in one form or another. Simply, it is a plea for dialog and understanding between the faiths that can rise above dogma and focus on the human tragedy caused by a divisive social taboo, says Hakim.
Nakhla graduated from the American University in Cairo with a double major in journalism and mass communications and theater. While he never studied film, he debated the idea of going to film school but finally decided to invest the money in making this movie and learn from hands-on experience.
He first started his career as a journalist at Al-Ahram Weekly writing for the arts and culture section. He then took a job at Tarek Nour Communications as assistant television producer and later moved on to Real Time as executive producer. Meanwhile he has directed nine plays in both English and Arabic.
The film crews were mostly comprised of Nakhla’s friends who he says volunteered their time and effort to the project pro bono. “They did it for the love of the project, for its purpose, that’s why I had their support, says Nakhla, who says that the film would probably never have seen the light of day without them.
Nakhla believes his film is a fair cultural representation of contemporary Egyptian society and would go down well with an international audience; he plans to take this film to various international film festivals.
Nakhla is taking a few months off and going to Montreal, where he is hoping to garner funding for a future feature film.