When filmmaker Dina Hamza was assigned to shoot a short film as an exercise in filming with three cameras, she never imagined that a workshop undertaking would turn into “Aswat (Voices), a 44-minute documentary about late, great Egyptian poets Fouad Haddad and Salah Jahine, and their families who continue the poetic tradition long after their demise.
“I was asked by the Danish instructor to shoot a short video on an artist, and my immediate choice was Samia Jahine, said Hamza, referring to the daughter of Salah Jahine.
As Hamza was having a casual chat with Jahine at her father’s house, she couldn’t help staring and pondering on the late poet’s possessions, scattered everywhere, especially his piano, at which many famous artists once sat composing music for his lyrics.
“But what attracted my attention most wasn’t the clear connection she still maintains with her father. It was her strong association with late, great poet Fouad Haddad, Hamza said. “The ghost of Haddad seemed to be constantly present in her life, whether through photos, stories or poetry recitals.
The richness of Jahine and Haddad’s relationship with their children prompted Hamza to desert her short feature format for a feature-length documentary.
“At first I thought I would make a 15-minute short feature, but the more I interacted with the two families, the more I felt it deserved more work and more time, Hamza noted.
In the documentary, the 29-year-old director takes her audience on a journey to capture the unique legacy the two poets left for their children and grandchildren.
“The film is not a biography. People already know who the two poets are, Hamza explained.
In the film, Jahine reflects on her complicated relationship with her father, and the anger and denial she experienced following her his death when she was a toddler. Her bond with Haddad, she said, was stronger and clearer.
“My relationship with my father began after he died, like anyone else who admired his art, 27-year-old Samia Jahine commented. “My childhood memories with him were not clear or strong. I think I started to have a better grasp of who he is, of what he means to me, when I first heard a recording of him reciting “Ala Esm Masr (In Egypt’s Name).
Amin Haddad had a different experience. “My relationship with Fouad Haddad began when I was seven months old, when he was detained in prison, Haddad says in the film. “The first time I saw him was in 1963 in prison after I had just turned four.
“My father gave me and my brother a sense of being different. My mother and relatives always told us to be proud of the fact that our father was a political prisoner.
The film sheds light on the connection between the two poets. Their relationship was devoid of completion, which further added to the intimacy and artistic integration among the two families, their friends and in-laws.
The younger generation, according to the film, follows the same model.
Jahine, the daughter, is known for singing and reciting the classic lyrics of Haddad in addition to her father’s, whether in poetry recitals or with the established Eskenderella band.
On the other hand, Haddad, the son, recites his works, his father’s and Jahine’s in sold-out performances. Furthermore, members of the two families frequently gather for poetry evenings they organize for their friends and acquaintances.
In the film, Hamza deliberately employs old photographs and sound recordings of the two poets instead of relying on archived video footage for visual aid.
“We usually derive the memories of our late loved ones through photos rather than videos, she explained.
Hamza chose not to include a narration. She paves the way for the audience to pick up facts, names of her interviews, and several details through her story-telling as she shifts smoothly from the world of Jahine to that of Haddad and vice versa.
It takes time for the audience, for example, to learn that Amin is married to Amina, Jahine’s elder daughter, and that Samia is married to the son of a co-detainee and a friend of Haddad’s. Amin and Amina’s son Ahmed is a young, aspiring poet expected to follow the pursuit of his two grandfathers.
Hamza also refrained from using a soundtrack; music is only heard in the background of poetry recitals and Eskenderella’s concerts.
Perhaps a key theme in the film is resistance through art. “Heirs of Jahine and Haddad use poetry to strengthen themselves and prove they are not passive, Hamza noted.
“We are an angry generation, but we have hope. We just need the older people to stop passing on their defeat and desperation to us, Jahine added. Their lengthy, thorough search for some kind of a savior, a hero, is also stressed in the film. “We all have this hero inside us, and I think it won’t die, Haddad said. “The solution will eventually come up, whether through a hero, or maybe through our collective efforts to change things.
“Voices is a co-production by Dina Hamza and Semat Production Company. It was recently screened during the Caravan of the Euro-Arab Cinema and expected to screen in upcoming independent film festivals across the country.