With a slew of titles on his filmography, and currently working on what's set to be a massive TV series, we talk to the 29-year old director about his inspirations, restrictions and aspirations for the industry.
Having once been the youngest director in Egypt, with his first feature film on the silver screen by age 24, Kareem El-Adl almost, despite being part of the illustrious El-Adl family, never got into the industry at all. We sit down with acclaimed film and TV director as he puts the final touches on upcoming TV series El-Beyoot Asrar to discuss moving from the cinema to the small screen and the restrictions that filmmakers meet while working in the local industry.
Tell us a little about how your love story started with cinema and filmmaking?
Well, for sure my family played a very important role in that, as they've been in the movie business for decades. But to be honest, at first, when I was graduating high school, I wanted to study computer graphics and actually applied at the Fine Arts academy but I was afraid that I wouldn't be accepted. So I also applied for the High Institute of Film as a second option, just in case. Two weeks later, I received letters from both, saying that I've been accepted. So I had to sit down, take a step back and think wisely about my decision and which road to take. And finally, I started thinking that cinema makes history and I want to make history. I want to leave something good behind me, something to be remembered by when I'm long gone... So, filmmaking it is.
When did you start to think you wanted to pursue it professionally?
In my first year at college, I went to the movies with my cousin and we watched Kill Bill by Quentin Tarantino. As soon as I saw that one animated scene in the film, I knew I took the right decision. It hit me: I WANT TO BE A DIRECTOR
How is working in Egypt? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working our film industry?
Idon't think there's any advantage in working as a filmmaker in Egypt... Disadvantages, though, I can give you a whole list. Censorship in Egypt is very narrow minded which leads to narrowing the creativity of filmmakers. I remember in my first feature film how people attacked the film, just because it contained two kisses! They even made a Facebook page against it. It was Walad we Bent and it was my first big film. I was only 24, the youngest director in the country back then. It was one of the greatest years of my life but of course I had some obstacles in the process of filming. I had a huge problem with the city's streets and buildings, as my film was set in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but the streets of Egypt had changed so much. It was so hard to find a street you can shoot in! So we had to be careful with every single shot, every single detail in the frame, every car that passed by the camera had to be from the right decade... And fortunately, we did it. Over all, I believe I did about 70% of what I had mind... And that's fair enough for a first feature.
And please don't get me started about how the majority of producers think, because it'd be the longest interview you've ever done.
What makes a great movie to you? And what makes a great director?
I'd like to think that there's no right and wrong in filmmaking; everyone has their own taste, vision and art. So, what I believe is that a great film, is basically a great script at first. I'd rather have a good script than having the biggest star actor, or the best camera in universe! The script is everything and a good director chooses his scripts wisely; scripts which match with his beliefs, scripts you can stand up and defend.
Who are some of your idols locally and internationally?
Although I respect and admire a lot of directors locally, I can never say that I idolise any of them. But of course there's some great directors here in Egypt, like Kamla Abu Zekry, Marwan Hamed, Sherif Arafa and more.
Internationally, my idols are a lot; I could give a list of at least 50 names! But to keep it short, my very favorites are, Darren Arnofsky, Tim Burton, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Wes Anderson.
What’s an Egyptian film you wish you directed? And an international film?
Locally that would be Harb El Farawla by Khairy Beshara. I love that script and wish someone would give me a chance to remake it. And internationally, I'd always hoped to have a script like V for Vendetta; not the story but the power of the film. The world now uses the symbol of the film as a sign of freedom. To make that kind of powerful film that would influence the whole world is a dream for every director, I think.
Who are some of the people you learned a lot from when you were first starting out?
I was trained by Marwan Hamed in my early stages as an assistant director, he's the one who taught me the essence of the cinema. I used to watch him work on set, and see how everyone on the set respected him, not because he's shouting or anything, but because he had passion in his eyes for every single shot he directs. I've also worked as an assistant director with others, but Marwan Hamed was the real mentor. Although, some of the directors I've worked with, I've learned not to do what they're doing because it's just that bad!
What are you working on now and how is it different in comparison to when you first started directing?
My Most recent project is Al Byout Asrar, a two-season series, and it would be my first contact with the small screen. And I can't put it in comparison with any of my previou projects, because cinema is always different than TV. Film is much more fun, accurate, and more artistic. TV, well, not that fun or artistic but that's because the number of scenes you have to direct in one day, and how many minutes you should create, and so on... Directing a TV series can literally give you a nervous break down!
What are some constraints that, if lifted, would benefit our industry greatly?
Censorship, of course, but that's just a small thing among others. There's also film piracy and it's affecting the industry so much but our main problem is that our producers, happen to be also the distributors, and the owners of the cinema screens in Egypt...
Any advice to up and coming directors?
Work, work and then work some more. Choose your scripts wisely and always remember, there's no right or wrong in such an industry, just do and make whatever you feel is right. And watch a lot of films, from all around the world.
Stay in touch with the latest work from Kareem El Adl by liking his Facebook page here and follow him on Instagram @Kareemeladl