The 31st Durban International Film Festival (July 22-August 1) is currently tantalizing South African art filmgoers.
Offering a rich package of 75 feature films, including the world premieres of nine South African films; DIFF 2010 also presents 29 feature documentaries, a focus on Swedish and African film, eco lens environmental films and Wavescape surfing features.
While patrons ooh and aah over the festival program, young filmmakers eagerly attend the free workshops run by experienced film industry professionals. The workshops cover scriptwriting, pitching, working with broadcasters and a myriad of related subjects.
At DIFF 2010, the inaugural Durban Film Mart was launched to provide an opportunity for African filmmakers to obtain financing.
“This first African co-production market has the potential to act as a key driver in raising the visibility of film content from Africa,” says Toni Monty, acting CEO of the Durban Film Office. “We envisage that it will provide African filmmakers with the opportunity to pitch film projects to leading financiers and meet and network with internationally-reputed directors and producers in order to form alliances for future collaborations. This is one of the most exciting additions to Durban’s film event calendar for many years,” she adds.
From 75 applicants, 12 projects were chosen to participate in the African Finance Program. One of the project finalists is Ibrahim El-Batout’s third feature, “Hawi.” Currently in post-production, the Egyptian independent film received funding from the Hubert Bais Fund and Jan Vryman Fund in the Netherlands.
The film revolves around three characters who all shared the same prison cell for 20 years. Their lives are not intertwined, but rather run parallel. What unites the story’s protagonists is their despair that resembles the eternal sea of Alexandria in its vastness.
Daily News Egypt met with Hossam Elouan, the producer of “Hawi,” and discussed the independent film scene in Egypt.
Daily News Egypt: What motivated the storyline for “Hawi”?
Hossam Elouan: The director, Ibrahim El-Batout, was fascinated by Alexandria. He wanted to integrate the city and the characters. There was no script for “Hawi.” He used scene breakdowns, allowing for change. The actors were all amateurs.
How did this impact the film?
It added more depth. We never learn in theory, we learn in practice. Ahmed Abdallah, director of “Heliopolis,” has hired a young man, with no previous formal experience, to edit his second film. There are lots of people with non-academic film backgrounds, who have participated in workshops, and have talent.
What is the scope for independent films in Egypt?
It’s an emerging market. There are many interesting projects, but there’s a lack of funding. There also aren’t concrete relations with European funding bodies. And they don’t consider Egypt as part of Africa, they see us as part of the Middle East, and their funding goes to ‘African’ countries.
South Africa has several local organizations offering funds to indie filmmakers. Does this exist in Egypt?
No. The National Film Center doesn’t help. It provides funding of LE 2.5 million each for 10 films. But this money goes toward mainstream cinema. A mainstream movie usually generates about LE 3 million. With this, 10 independent films can be funded. So if the NFC supports indie films, more movies can be made.
Why do you think the NFC chooses to support mainstream cinema over independent films?
Because of the mentality of those running it; they are not aware of what’s going on in the world. Here at DIFF I’ve met people from different film councils from around the world. They’ve all said to me they haven’t been invited to the Cairo International Film Festival. The NFC treats indie filmmakers as outlaws. They don’t understand the concept of indie film, which is to make people aware of realities, to know more.
There are no mainstream movies which accurately reflect real life. Around the world, mainstream cinema is used to manipulate the audience, offering an alternate form of reality.
Egyptian films are not usually seen at festivals like DIFF either, whereas Algerian, Tunisian and Iranian films have a sizeable presence. Should Egyptian filmmakers lobby for funding from international organizations independently?
Yes, and through meeting people here, that’s what I’ve been doing. Isabel Arote from Eurodoc International and Jan Vryman Fund are interested in funding films. The International Documentary Film Festival wants to come to Egypt and have films screened in Cairo and vice versa. They don’t know who to approach at the National Film Center though. There aren’t contact details, one can’t get through.
What type of Egyptian stories would you like to see manifested on camera?
I want to see stories that speak to an international audience, not just a local one. I want to see the Egyptian landscape covered, revealing different Egyptian characters, without stereotyping.
This is a critical time in Egypt’s political history. Would you say there are dangers involved in making movies with political themes?
Yes there are. The political situation is not of interest to Egyptian filmmakers. All are worried about what will happen in the next year. The situation is very obscure, and we’re hoping for a safe transition to a new era.
Are there any political themes in “Hawi”?
Yes. Nobody knows what’s happening and the dangers are addressed in a subtle way. They’re uncovered in a clever way, without directly making it known.
You teach film at the American University of Cairo. What are the training opportunities which exist for those wanting to enter the industry? How affordable and accessible are they?
Affordability is a problem. But there is the Jesuit filmmaking program, taught by the Jesuit school, which offers free workshops in Cairo, Alexandria and Minya. I’d like to start workshops in informal areas as I feel there are emerging filmmakers which can come out of poorer areas.