Previous Post
Wine School
Next Post
Sarah Fasha

Watch With Wael

So you've been reading all about what our resident film-buff Wael Khairy is watching, but tomorrow you'll get a chance to watch what he's writing about, in CairoScene's first ever virtual film screening. We talk to Khairy to find out more:

Wael Khairy has been watching movies since before God called action on his life. The published Chicago-Sun Times writer and compatriot of the late legendary film reviewer Roger Ebert (pictured together above), has been writing in-depth film reviews for us for over a year now about everything and anything out in the cinema from vampires, to Hobbits, zombies and back. Alas, there are some movies that rarely get to see the light of day in a commercial aspect and despite being visual feasts or larger-than-life stories, people don’t get the chance to hear about them. Thankfully our resident cinephile will be diving deep into the outer limits of his library and excavating some cult classics and unknown films for one it’s kind ‘virtual screenings’ exclusively on CairoScene every Monday. We’ll have a full HD movie that you can stream on the website chosen by Khairy, accompanied by his in-depth review of the film. We had a chat with the movie buff ahead of the first screening tomorrow night…

So what is your idea behind these virtual screenings?

I don’t think anything like this has ever been done before. When you watch a film and read an insightful commentary about what you’ve just seen, it not only makes you appreciate the cinematic piece more, but you become more intellectually stirred and involved. In many communities around the world, people join book clubs to discuss and share their thoughts on a book every month or so. Egypt has a more film driven culture, and I think it’s about time we started our own little virtual film club.

What kind of films can we expect?

I’ll try my best to pick films readers have never seen before. Films you won’t find on TV, or playing at cinemas near you. There will be a few exceptions of course, but generally speaking, you’ll be exposed to some of the most underrated and remarkable films out there. The thing is, with censorship and limited DVD/Blu-Ray releases, our exposure to cinema is sadly very limited in Egypt. The Internet here is being used as a tool to break borders and overcome limitations. So many great films, from foreign, animated and cult classics to independent films, fly under the radar unnoticed. I plan on being that radar. I’ll try my best to detect and expose readers to films that are worthy of their time.

How do you hope people will react with the concept of watching a movie along with the reviewer, so to speak?

Well, I hope I’ve gained the trust of many readers with my previous reviews. The ultimate goal is for everyone to appreciate film as art, not just a form of entertainment. Upon reading my review, readers/viewers will get to see the film once again, only through my eyes. One of the things I love most about watching a great film is the spark of discussion and debate that follows when you walk out the theare, completely buzzed. I hope everyone joins in on the discussion, so we can all speak “film.”This is a first feature of its kind; it’s an all-year virtual film festival.

Do you remember what got you so interested in film in the first place?

When I was ten years old, my old man gave me an old VHS copy of JAWS. I remember the first time I saw that film, I was absolutely captivated by the idea of death lurking beneath the surface ready to snatch you when you least expect it. I’m pretty sure I wore that tape out. I must’ve watched it over a hundred times.  The viewing of which triggered a movie-watching frenzy. I was trying to find a film that was at least half as good as JAWS, and with JAWS being such a bonafide classic, you can imagine how long that search lasted.

My VHS collection grew into the hundreds, most of them were crappy films, because I was just blind buying everything at the time. When DVDs starting coming out I double-dipped the few good ones on the new format. It was right about then that I wanted to own the largest collection of great films in Egypt. But I needed guidance, so I started reading the very insightful film reviews of Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, and every film essay written by David Bordwell Andre Bazin, and Francois Truffaut. Suddenly, I was exposed to this beautiful art form. I discovered world cinema, experimental films, and was introduced to the great auteurs of motion pictures; Scorsese, Godard, Bunuel, Malick, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Bergman, Welles, Peckinpah, just to name a few.

When I studied film in university, I hardly studied at all, because I had already read it all before. I was eager to learn more though, so I started taking graduate courses even though I was an undergraduate at the time. Nevertheless, I completed my degree in Film Studies at UCLA with a GPA of 4.0. I only started writing reviews when I wholeheartedly disagreed with the general reviews of a film I enjoyed. I wanted people to understand why their subconscious mind took a liking to what they saw. Roger Ebert then reached out for me and hired me as a foreign correspondent to the Chicago-Sun-Times.

Everything changed from then on. I got invited to attend film festivals everywhere, and I met some of the brightest minds in this field. Eventually, I started participating in panel discussions and before you know it I was writing regularly for the UK’s The Spectator. I even had my film essays published in three books. More and more people reached out for me, and I began writing excessively for so many publications. I even wrote about film for a Swedish film magazine at one point, they would translate all my words from English to Swedish before featuring them in their magazine. I think the highlight of my career so far was when Roger Ebert wrote that excellent Wall Street Journal piece, “Film Criticism is Dying? Not Online.” and named me as one of the reasons we live in the golden age of film criticism. I finally settled in with CairoScene, the best word portal in my home country.

What's your process for reviewing a movie, do you take notes when watching or just absorb it all in afterwards?

Well, it depends on what I’m writing. I like to review my films at least a day after watching them, otherwise I’d be overreacting to what I saw. I could walk out of a film unimpressed, but the more I think about the film, the more I appreciate it. I think it’s very important to give every film a chance to sink in before expressing your thoughts on the matter. Sometimes, a film requires more than one viewing, but I rarely take any notes during initial film viewings. It’s too distracting for me and I end up missing some key points. It works for some film critics out there, but it never added anything to my work.

However, when I’m working an analytical piece, my whole living room turns into the office of a mad film professor. I analyse every shot, and this requires watching the film repeatedly, sometimes four times a day. By the end of that session, I usually have enough rough notes on the film to publish a thin book. I then filter everything out and try to reach the core of what the filmmaker was trying to communicate in written words. The most important thing for me is to have a very insightful analysis. The aim is to reach a mutual agreement with my readers. Not everyone knows how to articulate why a certain film resonated with him or her so deeply, and I think it’s my job to express this great appreciation on behalf of everyone who enjoyed or hated a film as much as I have.

Do you prefer going to the cinema to watch a movie or are you just as happy watching it on your laptop?

I prefer watching films at the cinema. It’s not just cause of the bigger screens; it’s the general feeling of sharing an experience with an audience. You laugh, cry, and fear together. For the briefest of moments, you get to travel on the same wavelength with complete strangers and that’s what’s magical about going to a picture palace. It’s the same reason anyone would find it more enjoyable to attend a live concert or a gig rather than listening to the music on an iPod. I think the eternal quest of any human beings is to crush their loneliness, and I think going to the movies, fulfills this universal need.

That being said, some films I’d rather never see in Egyptian theaters. The Egyptian film censorship board has butchered countless classics, and it wasn’t just to cut out nudity, profanity, or violence. I once caught Pulp Fiction on a local channel, and it was actually re-edited in chronological order. Anyway, I do recommend going to the movies, but when it comes to certain films, a laptop screen preferably connected to a big TV screen is fine by me. The films I plan to feature in these virtual film screenings are all films that didn’t or won’t make it to local cinemas.

Stay tuned for Wael Khairy’s first virtual film screening on CairoScene, tomorrow 23rd December.