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TIFF ’09 | Ahmad Abdalla: “I wrote this film after a very hard phase of my life”

TIFF '09 | Ahmad Abdalla: "I wrote this film after a very hard phase of my life"

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews indieWIRE will be running with the filmmakers screening in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival’s Discovery program.

Ahmad Abdalla’s feature film debut “Heliopolis” follows the lives of a host of characters living in the Heliopolis district of Cairo. The movie, which screens as part of Toronto’s Discovery section, “draws back the area’s veil of faded grandeur to reveal characters that deepen and broaden any understanding of one of the world’s great cities. If Egypt is complicated, Heliopolis is Exhibit A.” indieWIRE contacted Abdalla via email to discuss his career and film and gave Abdalla and others a free-form style interview…


I am originally a musician. My parents wanted me to follow their lead and study fine arts, but due to some circumstances I ended up learning to play the viola. Although I have now forgotten everything about the viola, I do not slightly regret the five years I spent tuning its four strings several times a day.

I am almost 31 now, living in Cairo, and I have made one short film and one feature film, both based loosely on my life.

Your Filmmaking Career and Process…

I started to approach the world of filmmaking 10 years ago, to find myself – a few years later – the youngest film editor in my country. I kept editing TV spots and commercial films, even music videos for a while, until I became unhappy with the kind of life I was leading. I kept thinking this was not what I left music for, then I decided to stay home and work on what I would enjoy the most, my personal project, “Heliopolis.”


I wrote this film after a very hard phase of my life. After a sequence of unfortunate events I developed a predilection towards seclusion and spent most of my time writing. I wrote “Heliopolis” in less than a month. I decided to produce it independently, with a crew of volunteers or one that would collaborate for a minimum wage. Several well-known actors liked the script and they agreed to contribute without receiving any remuneration. We used HD cameras to shoot the film, and our locations were actual streets and apartments in the neighborhood of Heliopolis. Since I believed that anyone can make their own film, no matter how much money or facilities they possess, I kept my budget as low as I can.

Your Influences…

I believe my girlfriend has the greatest influence on me, not only because she is going to proof-read this pretty soon, but also because it’s a fact!

But If you mean my influences in the world of films, I would say the young independent filmmakers that I had the chance to instruct and work with at several occasions in Cairo and Alexandria are my real role-models. Those talented young artists reinforced my conviction in the possibility of making a low budget film, which could tackle the most personal aspects of one’s life, without having to submit to the demands of the market, the movie stars, or the distributors. It is my friends and the young artists in the independent filmmaking schools who have taught me how to be true to myself in my films. I learned that I only need a camera and a worthy story, a slice of our everyday experiences, to make a “film.”

The Future…

Although I hope to keep making independent films, the way things are in Egypt, I am guessing that in 10 years, I could be one of three:

1. Another chubby TV director who makes soap operas for Ramadan (our hot TV season in Egypt).
2. Living abroad and making another cross-cultural film about an Egyptian illegal migrant somewhere in Europe and his yearning to return home.
3. A farmer (my favorite option).

My hopes about my film’s reception in TIFF is simply to have a good screening, by that I mean a good theater with a large audience. The latter’s reaction will surely vary, especially with such personal films as Heliopolis. That’s why I am hoping to finalize -as much as I can- a good copy of the film for our upcoming screening on the 17th and 18th.

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