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Amr Waked & Ibrahim El Batout

CairoScene decided to venture out of its little bubble of inanity and go do a proper interview with superstar Amr Waked, hot shot director Ibrahim El Batout and production guru Ahmed Manawishi about their latest movie ‘The Winter of Discontent’.

At first it went well because CairoScene’s Dalia Awad is a real journalist and knows how to conduct herself with respect and professionalism. As such, she wrote all the lovely words below for us. But then, in typical CairoScene style we decided to try and be funny. This is when things got confusing and a little awkward. That confusing awkward part is available for your viewing pleasure in the short video clips at the bottom. As you’ll see from the videos, we had high hopes for this piece. We had a CairoScene banner in the background and everything, just like they do in those press junkets in real countries. What we got instead was gebna roomy…   

Known for their powerful films and their affiliation with the Egyptian revolution, when Amr Waked and Ibrahim El Batout invited us to a surprise press conference, we knew it would be about something special. The award winning, internationally acclaimed actor and the war-zone documentary-maker-turned fiction film fiend were at the Falaky Theatre at the AUC to announce their collaboration, El Shetta Eli Faat or The Winter of Discontent. Sat in the auditorium amongst a whole host of eager journalists, we were on the edge of our seats when the trailer came on. The new film, which has been chosen to compete in the upcoming Venice Film Festival, follows three main characters as the revolution reverberated around Egypt. Showing the deeply personal and profound affects the unprecedented events of January 2011 had on the protagonists, and indeed many Egyptians, the film was actually conceptualised during that time.

“I was out of Egypt when the revolution began, and as soon as I landed back, I headed straight to Tahrir,” says El Batout who is no stranger to conflict zones and the uncertainty that comes with political turmoil. Before releasing his three fiction films, El Batout was one of the best conflict reporters in Egypt, having spent time in Gaza, Baghdad, Kosovo, Rwanda and Chechnya, amongst other war-torn states. “Egypt’s revolution was much harder to deal with. It’s different when you have a personal connection to the place,” he explains. Indeed, the revolution hit El Batout so hard that he dropped out of his scheduled directing stint in the long-awaited film adaptation of Essam Youssef’s ¼ Gram. “What I saw in Tahrir was so big, so new and so extraordinary that it was all I could think about. I knew I had to do something, I had to act upon the feelings the atmosphere was stirring inside of me. So I picked up a camera and just started shooting, with no plan,” he says.

It wasn’t long before El Batout joined forces with Amr Waked. Having been one of the most vocal celebrities during those 18 days, and having been friends with El Batout for years, Waked was right on board when the director called him. Without a script or even a shot list, the two began shooting scenes in Tahrir, taking advantage of the real-life protests going on and soaking up the authentic atmosphere into their reels. “I knew the film would be something special if only because of what was happening those days on Egypt’s street,” says Waked. Known for almost exclusively taking on these kinds of hard-hitting roles, Waked’s style of acting and his personal interests made him the man for the job and we suspect that’s the reason the character he plays is also called Amr. After the impromptu beginnings, including live footage and scenes shot amongst the protests of Waked and his co-star Farah Youssef, also an active protestor at the time, the team began working behind-the-scenes in a more orthodox way, writing a script for two months after Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power.

CairoScene's Dalia Awad & Timmy Mowafi with Ibrahim El Batout, Amr Waked & Ahmed Manawishi

“The film not only documents perhaps the most important event in Egypt’s modern history, but it imparts knowledge on the viewers from a more personable and intimate angle,” explains Waked. Though this should be enough to ensure El Shetta Eli Faat’s popularity and success, Waked has some legitimate concerns. “The film costs 5 million LE to produce, and we’ve had a whole range of investors from artistic individuals to Aroma, one of the biggest post-production companies in the Middle East. People believe in the film, but it will be difficult to ensure that it’s a commercial success,” he says. Why? Both Waked and El Batout, with their years of experience, know that artistry and real talent don’t necessarily equate to box office revenues. “The  trouble with the Egyptian market is that it’s been so saturated with silly, light films from big production houses that can market and distribute them with gusto,” says Waked. “Unfortunately, this has made both film distributors and, as a result, cinema-goers lean towards this kind of big budget but low quality production,” adds El Batout. According to the two, if El Shetta Eli Faat is distributed the way these kind of independent films usually are, there is little hope for true commercial success, no matter what the movie’s merits are. Ahmed Manawishi from Aroma, who joined us for this interview agrees – “After being one of the biggest film powerhouses in the world, Egypt has fallen down a slippery slope where quality has been compromised. The biggest problem is that it seems like the Egyptian viewer is falling too. We need to learn that just because we’re told that something isor is not, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge it and seek other options,” he says.

Nevertheless, the team remains optimistic. They believe in their final product the way true artists do. And they’re not the only ones. When they sent the film, before it even went through its final mastering processes, to be considered for the 69th Venice Film Festival to be held at the end of August, they were the first of all entries to be accepted. Though a distributor is yet to pick up a film, its release is scheduled for the beginning of next year. This doesn’t seem to phase the merry bunch though.

 

Off to a good start! They don’t even know who we are…

 

But then again, we don’t even know who they are!

We then insist that they must explain the entire film to us in a single second / a single word / or as a fruit? The actually try and do this…

At this point no one actually understands what’s going on. They then accuse us of not being as “wacky” as we had promised to be…

 Amr Waked gives us a few words of wisdom about doing it for free…

And then he gives us a little anecdote about traffic in Egypt. It’s supposed to be a metaphor, but we can’t remember for what… 

AND finally, for reasons entirely unfathomable to Dalia and the rest of the CairoScene team, Timmy engages Amr Waked in an improvisation about gebna roomy… 


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