“I’d been to Cairo when I was sixteen and just fell in love with it,” “Cairo Time” director Ruba Nadda said during a conversation about the film at the Apple Store SoHo this weekend. “I’d always promised myself that I’d come back and tell a story or make a movie there. And I knew I could try and capture an audience in Cairo by setting up a sweeping romance… a very old-fashioned romance in the city. I studied literature in university, and I studied Jane Austen. And I wanted ‘Cairo Time’ to have that very old-fashioned feel.”
Nadda succeeded, bringing sweeping, cinematic romance to Cairo via the story of Juliette (Patricia Calrkson), a married magazine editor who arrives in Egypt to meet up with husband, only to begin falling for retired Egyptian police officer Tareq (Alexander Siddiq) in her husband’s unexpected absence. After winning best Canadian feature at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, “Time” made its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend. In anticipation, Nadda was joined by her two actors at the Apple Store SoHo to talk about the film.
“The beauty of Ruba’s filmmaking is that the film is loaded with incredibly real, seductive, sensual moments that honor your intelligence,” Clarkson said at the panel, moderated by indieWIRE‘s own Brian Brooks. “This is a sophisticated film. But it’s not an elitist film. And that’s a very different line to walk. I think great filmmakers make films that people can genuinely respond to with emotion and intellect, and I’m just so proud to be a part of this film.”
Clarkson was also quite pleased to find a film where a woman of a certain age was carrying it.
“When I first read this script it was very surprising to read something where a woman carried a film,” Clarkson said. “And especially a woman north of 40… 45, 6, 7, 8, 9…”
Siddiq (known best for his roles in “Syriana” and the television series “24”) was just happy there was a project for him where he “wasn’t blowing up a plane or holding anyone hostage.”
“Which are the things I usually do,” he laughed. “Or at least it feels this way. People always think I’m a terrorist. I’ve only played a terrorist once in my life but it will haunt me.”
As for the film’s “third main character,” the city of Cairo itself, no North American film had ever pulled off shooting in Cairo until “Time,” and Nadda and her cast made it clear why.
“It was madness,” Nadda said of filming there. “It was absolute, sheer madness. But, you know, I set this movie in Cairo for a reason. Because I thought it was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. So I knew what I was getting myself into. But it’s not a gentle city. There’s 20 million people. The heat is crazy. There’s no streetlights. There’s bureaucracy level hell. We had a censorship woman from the government who was watching my every move.”
The censorship woman was not there about sexual content (Nadda even joked that she wanted more sex), it was more about Cairo was being portrayed in an international film. Clarkson joked she’d distract the censorship woman, and Nadda had a secret weapon in her near-identical looking sister, who would take the censor shopping when Nadda needed to shoot a questionable scene.
Nadda told a wide variety of horror stories, though in the end seemed quite proud that she and her cast and crew had pulled it off.
“There’s so many stories I could tell you where we were almost arrested,” Nadda said with a smile. “You have to have permits, and sometimes we just didn’t. There’s this scene in the movie where we are filming on a very famous bridge… And there’s just no way you can shut down this bridge. It would create chaos and havoc. But I really needed this scene, and my first AD was saying ‘you know, you probably have to cut this out.’ So what I did was I threw my producer in front of one side of the traffic, and stopped it, and I went over to other side of traffic, and stopped it. And they beeped the hell of us, but it didn’t matter because there was no dialogue… I feel that basically, if you can get a film shot in Cairo, you can get a film shot anywhere.”
“Cairo Time” is screening at the Tribeca Film Festival through the end of this week, and opens in limited release through IFC Films on August 6, 2010.