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Hala Lotfy Wants to Break Film Industry Monopoly in Egypt – Preps Second Feature, ‘The Bridge’

Hala Lotfy Wants to Break Film Industry Monopoly in Egypt - Preps Second Feature, 'The Bridge'

Egyptian filmmaker Hala Lotfy (she was on my filmmakers to watch list in 2014) is prepping to go into production on her second feature – a Cairo-set drama titled “The Bridge” – and has attracted Egyptian producer Mohamed Samir and his DayDream Art Productions banner, to the project, which will be shopped at the Dubai Film Connection co-financing event, kicking off today, December 11. 

“The Bridge,” inspired by a true story, follows the events surrounding the death of a young boy after he falls through a hole on a poorly-maintained bridge, with Cairo’s dark underbelly as a backdrop.

Lotfy’s feature film debut, “Coming Forth By Day,” was one of my top films of 2013. The film’s first half is entirely set in the suffocating apartment of an old Egyptian man (Ahmed Lutfi), who needs the help of his wife (Salma Al-Najjar) and his daughter, Soad (Donia Maher), for even the most basic tasks, since he can’t even eat by himself or walk. The mother also works at a hospital and has just changed her working hours, to work nights, which means that during the day, she sleeps; and the care for the man of the house falls entirely on Soad, the daughter. Scenes of feeding the father, taking care of his bed sores or changing his bedding are set in the penumbral apartment, which has its shutters closed. For most of the time, it’s not even clear what time of the day it is, only that all of Soad’s time is occupied by just looking after her father. The camerawork by Mahmoud Lotfy, brother of the director, helps underline the claustrophobic nature of the women’s lives indoors.

In the film’s slightly less claustrophobic second half, Soad (and the viewer) finally gets to breathe a little when she decides to leave the house, though she promises her mother she’ll be back soon and will take her mobile phone with her so she can be reached in case of an emergency. However, finally out of the house, Soad still seems unable to take control of her own life, aimlessly wandering around, talking to an ex-lover, running various errands. It is not only a very accurate portrayal of a possible day and night of a young woman in Cairo, but also a harsh, if subtle, comment on how the heavy burden of expectation sidelines any sense of purpose for Egyptian women.

A look at Egypt unlike much Egyptian cinema prior to it, with comparisons being made to European arthouse films, “Coming Forth By Day” premiered in the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival in 2012.

It was Hala Lotfy’s feature film directorial debut, for which she won the FIPRESCI prize in Abu Dhabi, as well as the top prize at the 6th Oran Arab Film Festival. She is also a member of the recently-launched MEDIS South Mediterranean distributors network and recently spearheaded a move to form an independent filmmakers’ union in Egypt.

Lofty was recently interviewed by the Algerian news daily, Horizons. Here’s a sample of the interview worth sharing:

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– People say that you are a socially committed, rebellious director. We also know that you literally refused that your film take part in the Cairo Film Festival. Why?

First, I would like to stress, at my modest level, that Egyptian cinema and Arab cinema in general should be auteur cinema, films with messages as opposed to commercial films. I reject and denounce the tendency of commercial and entertainment cinema that, for some years now, has taken over Egypt in imitation of Hollywood cinema.

– What do you think of Algerian and North African cinema these days?

I’m no expert on the subject, but I do know that after the post-independence period, theatrical and cinematic creation leapt forward in terms of quality both on the national and international scene. These films have been very successful at certain international events. I suppose that, ideally, film professionals should be helped to perfect their know-how, different approaches should be compared, and cooperation should be boosted between creators across the North African and Arab region.

***

Lotfy and a group of other independent artists founded Hassala Productions, which provides equipment and fundraising advice to young filmmakers, and conducts film workshops. They also formed a syndicate which aims to break what she called the film industry “monopoly” in Egypt: “We are trying to do films that are revolutionary in content, take risks and are adventurous in low-budget form,” she says. “This is how things will change.”

She called making “Coming Forth By Day” an act of resistance, because “the film scene in Egypt is so established that it makes it hard for individuals to make a name for themselves.”

And further, “It’s a very good example of how the country lacks democracy. If you don’t have money and aren’t well-connected, then you aren’t allowed to express yourself. But if democracy means anything, it is that everyone is entitled to express themselves, regardless of the tools they choose to do it.”

Hala Lotfy – a talent to watch.

The film that critics called Egypt’s “best in the last decade” and even “one of the 100 greatest Arabic films of all time,” is unfortunately not readily available in the USA. I happened to screen it at a film festival, but it never received a commercial USA release; not even on home video. So I sadly can’t say how you can see it if you want to. But I’ve emailed the production company with an inquiry. When/if I get a response, I’ll share here. It did screen at the SIFF (the Seattle International Film Festival) as an African Pictures program selection in 2013. 

Here’s a trailer for “Coming Forth By Day”:

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