Valentina Primo talks to the makers of short film One Week, Two Days, a 12-minute movie which explores the concepts of love, pregnancy, and motherhood in Egypt. The filmmakers talk challenging stereotypes in society and the difficulties faced by the independent film scene in the Arab world.
Is time against love? Or are time and love in such different realms that they collide? Sudanese director Marwa Zein explores the absurd yet real dynamics that evolve in a relationship when time becomes a tyrant and anticipation fuses with the parallel world of dreams. Her short film One Week, Two Days, explores the ruminations of a young Egyptian couple as they tread on the territories of possible pregnancy.
In 12 minutes, the film takes the viewer nine days into the life of the couple as they wait in fear, hope, and disillusionment. “It’s the craziness of nine days where everything changes in their life. In a parallel world, she wants a baby; but in this world her dreams are different,” says producer Fatma Abdel Salam.
Through a fusion of dreams and reality, anticipation, fears, and expectations, the film concludes to replace stereotyped roles with a question mark. Who said all women have the burning desire of being a mother? “We keep teaching girls to play with dolls and telling them that they are mothers by nature. And they end up having babies because they are told this is what they want. We are not targeting the stereotype itself, but the main idea is that not all women are mothers, and not all men are fathers,” says Abdel Salam.
Born in Saudi Arabia and based in Cairo, director Zein puts stereotypes under discussion not only on screen but also behind the scenes. “We are proud that half the crew are women,” Zein says, “And we are happy that the other half are men, to 'oppress them',” she ironises.
Having broken out from the Egyptian mainstream industry, Zein and Abdel Salam are forging their own path as independent filmmakers and have just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to support the production of their film. Aiming to raise USD 15,000 the creative filmmakers set up impressive rewards for their supporters, such as a three-day trip to the Red Sea and dinner with the producers.
“It is very expensive to rent the equipment we need, and as independent filmmakers, we want to make it with the best possible quality,” Abdel Salam tells Cairoscene. “This film is also different because it has lots of visual effects and scenes on the seaside - that’s why we thought of fundraising to make it as it should be.”
Abdel Salam and co-producer Alhan Gharam set up their own production house, Epic Productions, in 2011 and have steadily grown with clients such as MBC 3 and Disney Channel. “I wanted to do something that I really enjoyed, based in the independent scene, working with independent filmmakers and low budget films, but creating genuine art,” she says.
Despite several filmmakers and independent producers having broken out of the mainstream industry since the Jan 25th revolution and the boom of entrepreneurship, independent cinema is still a rocky land for filmmakers trying to make a name for themselves.
“There are two scenes at the moment: the professional scene, which dictates what people need, always targeting the C class, and talking about the same issues; and the independent scene, which is slowly growing from low quality productions and giving more space for the filmmaker to express himself,” says Abdel Salam.
As director Marwa Zeid puts it, Arab filmmakers are both bound to the market requirements, and chased by constant censorship “that kills our imagination and redefines our word”. “Making films is just like painting art; filmmakers need to express their own feelings, moods, and their vision. Whether you watch Mexican, Spanish, or French cinema, you can see the director’s own style. You can see a variety in film festivals that you can really enjoy; but you can never see this in Egyptian cinema,” Abdel Salam adds.
Shallow and limited to expressing the market demands, the Egyptian mainstream industry lacks talents who turn the screen into real art, the producer explains. “Mainstream cinema is like bread and cheese: tasteless. You go to the cinema and you cannot see any difference in its movies, it looks as if the whole industry was created by the same person.”
It was this frustration that pushed Abdel Salam to embark on an entrepreneurial journey and set up their studio in Cairo’s Mohandiseen, with only a camera, an editing room, and “zero budget”. “With the rise of digital filmmakers and simple cameras, making cinema is not as costly as it was before, when you had to shoot either with low quality or rent really expensive equipment,” she explains.
Despite that, a lack of funding and high expenses still exist in the industry. “That is why we decided to make it a short movie. It’s easier because the costs are lower, and we can handle every single aspect,” she says. “Most of us are freelancers, and finding the location, doing castings, brainstorming, and getting equipment for shooting and editing takes a lot of time.”
Zeid, an award winning film director and scriptwriter, studied at the High Institute of Cinema in Cairo, where she met Abdel Salam. “She stayed for two years on her own without making a movie because she lacked the funds. She wanted to create a very low budget movie between two actors in one set, but was doing a one man show,” she tells us. As they knew each other from the cinema institute, both talents decided to join forces and capabilities, creating a crowdfunding campaign and a trailer that promises to push the independent film industry scene to a higher level. With 8% of their project now funded, the campaign extends until the end of June, when shooting is scheduled to begin.