Late legendary Egyptian author Tawfiq El-Hakim provided the inspiration for a two-day short film festival held this week in Zamalek’s Sawy Cultural Wheel.
Organized by the Arab Creators Community for Short and Digital Films, the festival showcased film adaptations of El-Hakim’s works by young and debut directors.
The festival was initially scheduled to take place at the Cinema Palace last month. Following a row between Arab Creator Community and director of the Palace Tamer Abdel-Moneim, the festival was forced to change venue.
On its Facebook group, the Arab Creators Community state their aim is to take short films out of the festival circuit and allow them to reach a wider audience – something they refer to as an “art invasion. Their members include filmmakers, screenwriters and young artists with an interest in the field from Egypt and the Arab region.
As was pointed out by DOP Ahmed Hussein in the discussion afterwards, these films were “no-budget rather than low-budget, a fact very much evident from the quality of the films themselves, one of which, “The Devil Barber, cost almost nothing at all to make.
Yasmine Samy, one of the festival organizers, told the audience that the El-Hakim theme was both a homage to the great writer and designed as a springboard for the mostly novice directors’ imaginations.
Mina Albert’s “The Guard, an adaption of El-Hakim’s “Ibliss Victorious, tells the story of a man who decides to cut down a tree in order to prevent people worshipping it in violation of Islamic contraventions against idolatry.
While in his apartment, saw in hand and on his way to carry out what he regards as his religious duty, he is accosted by Ibliss – Satan – who instructs him not to cut down the tree, telling the man, “your duty is to leave people alone.
The two end up in several physical fights, all of which the man wins.
Ibliss next attempts to persuade the man to abandon his plan by telling him that he will put LE 500 under his pillow every night for as long as he leaves the tree alone.
Ibliss does this until one morning when the man wakes up to no money, he promptly grabs his saw intending to cut down the tree.
This time when the man and Ibliss fight it is the latter which wins, Ibliss telling him “When you fight for God and religion, you win. But when you fight for yourself, I win.
El-Hakim’s condemnation of the mercenary supplanting the spiritual retains its potency today, and arguably has even greater resonance in a society where conventional physical manifestations of faith are in some situations valued more highly than genuine quests for spiritual knowledge.
Intentional or not, morality formed a reoccurring leitmotif of the majority of the films screened.
Nourhan Metwally’s “Ganet El Shayatan (Devil’s Paradise) also featured a guest appearance by the devil, this time wearing an Al Pacino “The Devil’s Advocate type suit.
“Devil revolves around an unhappy young girl who sells her soul to the devil in return for his granting her every desire for 10 years.
She indulges in an array of vices until two months before the devil is due to come back and take her, when she decides to try faith and prayer.
The two months in which she repents saves her from the clutches of the devil: She is torn away by an angel in a white suit, leaving the devil to self-emolliate.
“Heart Attack is even more direct. Nagy El-Ali showed us in three minutes a newly-divorced woman made to reconsider her decision as she watches a speaker on television who concludes with “divorce is never the solution.
El-Ali said during the discussion that followed that he had consciously altered the El-Hakim play (The Happiest Couple) which inspired “Heart Attack, changing both the characters and the tone, from comedic to tragic.
All but one of the films (Mohamed Hussein Rashed’s “The Killer Barber ) were marked by the solemnity which comes with delivering a lesson in morality, and which jarred somehow with their low-budget production.
A member of the audience chose to raise the issue with director Ahmed Emara, questioning why at the end of his film “Killing Suspicion he had chosen to emblazon the screen with an injunction against the type of idle gossip which leads to the death of his heartbroken heroine.
While the audience member suggested that the age of this type of moralizing propaganda had long passed, Emara responded by suggesting that alas the gossip he describes in his film continues to break up homes.
I couldn’t honestly judge whether the sententious tone was the result of the directors remaining true to the spirit of El Hakim s works, or rather whether this was their own vision of either his messages or the message they sought to present via his work.
This issue was raised by a question posed to Albert, had he felt any discomfort making “The Guardian; clearly alluding to the director’s religion.
“I wasn’t troubled because I interpreted Tawfiq El-Hakim’s idea rather than my own, Albert said.
Albert, in any case, revealed that he had far more pressing obstacles while making the film: he was arrested for filming in the street.
Rather poignantly, he said “it’s difficult to make a film when you’re terrified.
Hussein suggested that Albert was wrong to even respond to the question, saying that religious denomination is irrelevant to film direction and that “respect for the other is the only thing of any importance.
He also told Albert that it is his own ideas he should be presenting in his films rather than El-Hakim’s, via the medium of El-Hakim’s plays – a point echoed by Adel Yehia, who asked why the directors had not presented original ideas in their films based on their own life experiences.
It is arguably this lack of originality which undermined the films. The El-Hakim theme seemed to limit rather than inspire. The lack of resources also made for predictably amateurish and crude films, which is not to say, however, that this was not a laudable, and well-put together initiative.