When we saw the haunting trailer for Aida El-Kashef's upcoming documentary detailing the experiences of women prisoners, incarcerated for murder, we just had to find out more...
Ahead of the completion of her documentary titled, The Day I Ate The Fish, we had the pleasure of sitting down with filmmaker Aida El-Kashef who has just recently started an Indie Gogo crowdfunding campaign to finish her film which raises questions about violence self-defense, personal and societal anger, as the groundbreaking documentary looks into the life and times of Egypt's female prisoners, most of them convicted of murdering their husbands. The women in Al-Qanater prison are the heroes of this project, and the political filmmaker Aida El-Kashef has shed a much needed spotlight on their stories through her documentary...
Tell us a little about yourself, how you got your start in filmmaking and how your passion for it was found?
After I graduated from high school, I was torn between three majors to apply for when choosing my future career. I was thinking either, Cinema (High Cinema Institute), Political Science or Philosophy in Cairo University. My mother vetoed The Faculty of Philosophy; she said that the faculty was dominated by the extreme ideologies, and that I wouldn’t really fit in or learn anything proper. I then applied to the Faculty of Political Science and also to the High Cinema Institute; having been accepted by both however ended up choosing Cinema, where I graduated class of 2009. For me, film felt that it had the advantage of uniting all my interests in one place! Film is not devoid from philosophy or from politics, it in fact a mixture of all and everything, a perfect hub one could say.
Tell us a little about your project. What is it about and what were some of the challenges you met while making it?
The Day I Ate the Fish is a feature-length documentary, its heroes are women who were convicted of murdering their husbands from various walks of life in Egypt, and are currently spending their sentences in Al-Qanater prison. Through their stories that appear as a set of interviews filmed in prison, the film raises questions about violence and counter violence, self-defense, personal and societal anger as well as many other ethical dilemmas such as how our society, its legal systems, media is affecting the citizen and in-return affected by each citizen's life. The challenge when we were filming the first phase of the film was to - as I mention in the crowdfunding video - to deal with the Egyptian bureaucracy and work against time to receive permits to film inside of prison. But also when we went inside, to really understand what are we filming, who are we filming with, choose our characters, and learn how to break the ice with them to be able to ask the questions that would – hopefully – allow them tell their stories. Today, one of the main challenges is the raising funds for the film, this is an extremely challenging task I must admit. Throughout the process of making this film, I started realising that for many, the topic The Day I Ate The Fish discusses is or needs to be a taboo, consequently, I felt that for various reasons people and organisations might feel a little bit skeptical about funding this film. Lately we’ve got lucky and we have a feeling that we will mange to collect the budget and make this film the way we see it. That’s why we thought that it would be best also to create a crowdfunding campaign to make people, hopefully our future spectators - be a part of the funding process. It’s been almost 10 days since we have launched the campaign and I must say it has given the whole film crew a huge boost in believing that we will eventually tell those stories on big cinema screens!
What are you hoping to accomplish with the film? And who is your target audience?
For starters I would say: A DISCUSSION! See, this film is not trying to provide answers or solutions; rather we are trying to ask questions that are needed for a wider discussion to take place as a result. If that happens then the goal has been accomplished! Unfortunately, as I said, many people avoid listening to stories as such, simply because they are hurtful, blunt, and it’s the dark reality we don’t want to hear as our bedtime story.
What could be even more difficult for many when listening to such a topic, is that many of the stories said in there are so brutally honest, that a person can actually connect with. There is strong sense of empathy and connection with ‘women's dilemmas’ that one can only empathise with, find commonalities; and that would probably scare many people or shy them out from such stories.
So, if you are asking us as the team behind the film if we have a specific goal, then the answer would be: we want to channel reality as is; we don’t want to shy away from that reality, because if we do, it will not vanish! On the contrary, it only means that one day that reality will hit us all, but probably then we wouldn’t be able to handle the consequences of what we’ve been shying away from for so long. That being said, I believe that this film is for everyone, it is not country specific yet taking place in Egypt and based on Egypt – but this is an international phenomenon, and anyone could be a part of the audience.
What makes a great documentary and who are some of your artistic inspirations?
Well, I am still a young film director so I don’t know if this question should be directed to me! I personally believe that what attracts me to a great documentary is its truthfulness. However, from my limited experience, I would say that being truthful and honest when filming a documentary is probably one of the hardest things to do; it could be very tricky, especially when you have characters who have entrusted you with their stories. So as a director, you always have to be aware of not projecting you're own ideas on your characters, staying truthful to what they've told you while you are editing, meanwhile find a balance through which you channel your own thoughts, emotions, and ideologies. Another important thing is to always have an open mind; let your story unveil itself onto you! Don’t enforce it. You will have an idea and once you start working on it, it will force itself onto you and it will change as you go with it; so don’t fight it… rather discover it, explore it, listen to it, and see it. Reality is not what we always think it is and that is probably the true magic of documenting through film.
As for the artist inspirations, in documentary films I always fascinated by Werner Herzog and Tahani Rached.
Head over to IndieGogo.com, and help make this film a reality with as little as a $15 contribution and keep up-to-date with the director on her Instagram @AidaElKashef