In a city as big as Cairo, several kinds of people with different social and economical backgrounds live in it, each with a unique way of living. To be able to get to know all these kinds of people is not only difficult, but almost impossible, as each has his own way of thinking and perspectives that might not be as clear and realistic to others.
To break the lines of difference and allow people see real life in the streets of Cairo, and live with several characters throughout various circumstances: this is the goal of “Hetetna” .
“Hetetna” (Our Neighbourhood) is an investigative reality show aired on Al-Hurra channel every week. Every episode explores different people in different neighbourhoods, as well as their lifestyles, work, goals, troubles and dreams for about 50 minutes.
With people from different places around Cairo, of various ages and jobs, it takes the viewer on a small trip inside Egypt, where the average citizen is the star of the show, to see things from a unique perspective.
“When we started the show our goal was to send viewers in every street and each place that normal cameras and shows don’t go to,” said Driss Sekkat, Executive Producer of Hetetna. “We want to engage with the audience and let people speak out and tell their stories, with the things they want the world to know.”
The reason behind shooting the show in Cairo instead of any other city is not only its size and dynamic, but also that it presents the true meaning of variety and uniqueness, as everyone has to survive on their own, according to Sekkat.
“I felt that Cairo is the best city for this show as it has all the elements that the show requires, the stories and the culture and the fascination,” he added.
Covering stories from the main neighbourhoods of Cairo was the biggest concern for the team, which consists of 16 persons, as they wanted each viewer to feel represented while seeing a story similar to his/hers on the TV.
Choosing the stories to shoot was the hardest part of the show, Sekkat says. “We wanted to make sure that each story that people see is real and true.”
Yet, convincing people down the street of the idea to shoot them was no piece of cake either. “This is a western style of shows, and people in Egypt are not that familiar with it,” Sekkat continued. “At first, to convince some people, especially those who are not so well-to-do, to go into their houses and interrupt their lives to shoot for 16 straight hours was a hard thing to do.”
But he added that once the team gained people’s trust, shooting and talking about their lives was an easy thing to do. “Egyptians are warm enough to let you in and socialise with you, as long as you show respect and sensitivity.”
“The amount of time taken to shoot each story varies from one story to another, but once we’re convinced that the story fits the criteria, we take all the time needed to shoot it.”
Though the team worked for six months to shoot 24 different stories in more than 20 different neighbourhoods across Cairo, there were certain stories that they found extremely remarkable.
“We get attached to each story we shoot, but filming the story of the plumber woman who’s over 50 and still works to help her son was just unforgettable,” Sekkat said, going silent period of time, only to go on saying with a twinkle in his eyes: “When you get to see people fighting just to have what you think are basic life needs, that touches you.”
“The things I learned from this show made me look at Egypt from a different perspective,” said Karem Hanafay, Producer of “Hetetna”. “I’m an Egyptian who was raised in Egypt my whole life and I’ve never seen it before as the stories of the show allowed me to.”
According to Hanafy, the main thing that makes Egypt so unique is the tolerance people share between each other that we tended to show in the programme: “You get to see two people living next to each other, each from a very different background, yet they are so nice, respectful and non-judgmental and that’s what we wanted people to feel in the show.”
After the first season was aired on Al-Hurra TV channel, the show became a huge success. With over 300,000 likes on their Facebook page, 21 million viewers for the channel, and over half a million views for the show on its YouTube channel, that the team decided to go for a second season.
“We already started shooting season two, and we plan to cover more stories with different places than the ones shown in the first season,” Sekkat said.
The team is also trying to get the programme aired on several Egyptian channels as the show is copyrighted to them.
“Hetetna” is not the first reality show that discusses living in Egyptian society; previously there was “Rayheen Ala Feein?” (Where are we heading to?) that was shot right after the 25 January Revolution, and recorded the diaries of different youths and their points of view on the revolution.
Similarly, there was “Nabd Al-Share’” (The pulse of the street) which showed the concerns of the Egyptians and their demands in life.