Prior to the premier of his film, My Experiment with Sufisim, we talk to independent filmmaker Mohamed Abo El Wafa about his experiences with the mystical arm of Islam...
Sufism is inherently linked to the mystic side of Islam, with an aim to find one’s self, not by going to India, eating a lot, and writing a book about it, but by purifying one’s own soul through spiritual practice and creating an inner confidence through a connection with God. There are an estimated 10 million Egyptian Sufis and, like many other young men and women, filmmaker Mohamed Abo El Wafa was searching for a better way of living and found Sufism too. He documents his spiritual journey in his latest short My Experiment With Sufism. We talk to Abo El Wafa about his film making process, his new found spirituality and comfy pants…
When and how did you get into filmmaking?
The idea of the film was first thought of when I was sitting in front of my laptop screen. I had the YouTube opened, and sat still with my hands on the keyboard thinking of something to search for and that lasted for quite some time. I knew at that moment that what I should be doing is making videos myself. I always thought that films are a great method of sending a message, showing cultures and habits and, of course, telling really good stories. So I knew the medium that I should use but I didn’t know about the content for a while.
As far as film making and style goes, who are your inspirations?
I got inspired from different filmmaking styles and schools and my favorite directors are Sam Mendes, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. On a more experimental level, I got inspired from Guy Madden’s My Winnipeg and, of course, the narrative style of Chris Marker’s films, especially Sans Soleil. I am a fan of a documentary-style approach regarding the camera work, and I really like the Cinema Verite era in films.
Why did you decide to use this Verite style to shoot My Experiment with Sufism?
I tried to form a mixed visual language, inspired from different styles of filmmaking and trying to add my own style to it. I wanted it to be simple and to be real.
Who scored the film and how do you feel the music complimented your journey?
I collaborated with two of my friends, whom are very good independent music producers: Ismail Seleit, the keyboardist from Page2, who also produces his own solo music too, and Mohamed El Sammad, one of the very talented experimental music producers I have come across. This was my first film project to produce an original soundtrack for. I thought that it’s about time to produce original soundtracks and not have to break the copyright rules which is something done by most of the filmmakers in Egypt. I think we have the tools and the talents and it’s time we started using them. The soundtrack helped a lot in adjusting the mood of every chapter. The musicians and I started on extracting sound elements from all of the recordings I had and mix them together with synthesizer sounds to come up with something new. Which is what I wanted to do in the first place.
A lot of the dialogue is in present tense. Was this conscience decision to convey the importance of ‘the here and now’?
The dialogue was simply a collection of my thoughts and observations which I formed in my contemplative journeys around the city, either by driving around during the early hours or just walking somewhere and sitting on a bench in the middle of the street, looking at my surroundings. I wrote my thoughts in my personal notebook and when I would go back to my studio apartment (which helped me a lot in producing a film like this), I used to record them and add them to the visuals I recorded from the same journeys. It was a very simple approach and very spontaneous; I relied on my intuition in every decision I made in this project.
What's the biggest lesson you've learnt in experimenting with Sufism?
The biggest lesson was that that there is nothing and no one but God that deserves you. And by you, I mean yourself, your being. God has many ways, you just need to know how to be connected. It’s a very relative issue. I don’t claim to know anything but I just know that I started to sense the best connection that I could have with God and I tried my best to reflect the process of me doing this in the film. But there is no end for the need of knowing more. We should always seek more knowledge.
If someone was curious after watching this film, how would they begin their path into Sufism?
I would advise him or her to start by exploring themselves and to start acknowledging the existence of their souls.
You talk about the dissemination of the idolism that surrounds material possessions, but if someone follows this spiritual path, can they also enjoy the nicer things in life without feeling guilty?
This is one of the most important issues that I constantly thought about when I was making this film. How to be a spiritual AND practical person, and if it’s even possible. I think it’s about being smart, honest and, most of all, being flexible in your decisions.
Your movie has very dream-like quality about it. How much do you relate to Edgar Allen Poe's musing that life is but “a dream inside a dream...”?
I think that dreams are products of very unpredictable elements. They get formulated inside an infinite space where things get mixed up inside human mind.
Did your parents have any comments to make on your experimentation with Sufism?
When I started thinking about this project, I decided to live on my own for the duration and create my own personal, inspirational space where I can produce what I want to produce. My family never refused or discouraged me from doing something that I am passionate about but of course ,regarding my last experience, there were things that I shared with them and things that I decided to keep for myself.
What is the most common misconceptions about Sufisim?
That Sufism is all about the whirling dervishes and people who gather around and do weird stuff. I think these two are the most common misconceptions but from what I learned and experienced, Sufism, to me, is listening to your soul, cleansing your heart, connecting to God and leading a lifestyle that’s best for your wellbeing.
How important is the music and performance side of Sufism?
Music is extremely important in an approach like this, because I believe that one of the main elements that affects the soul is sound. The sound input that you receive has the power to change everything within you, starting from listening to someone compliment you and up to listening to sounds made for meditation purposes. Sound is infinite and music, to me, is using sound to have an impact on people’s emotions.
Have you been able to find a semblance of inner peace with Sufism?
Until now, I think that feeling inner peace is easy. It can happen in your living room. It’s very relative, but it can be really sophisticated, depending on the person. It can require serious meditation, and I am not taking about the online meditation sessions that you do while you are sitting, eating Oreo’s in front of your computer. I am taking about a meditation style of your own, you form it and only you will know how to do it.
Lastly, what's up with the big pants?
The big pants are very, very comfortable, that’s all you need, man. Haha.
My Experiment with Sufism will be touring around Cairo in the coming weeks. Like the film's fan page here to find out where and when.