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Matrimonial troubles
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 10 - 2018

spoke to the young Egyptian filmmaker Adam Abd ElGhaffar about his 15-minute film Shoka w Sekkina (Fork and Knife), which won the first award script at El Gouna's Tayara Workshop last year and was screened in the short film competition this year.The film stars Menna Shalabi, Eyad Nassar and Asser Yassin. It opens with two strangers at dinner, Sherif and Salma, each describing being married: Sherif (Nassar) tells the stories of his infidelities while the screen throws additional light on various encounters, revealing his selfishness; Salma (Shalabi) speaks of her ex-boyfriend (Yassin) comparing her feelings for this lost love to her feelings for her husband. Only at the end does the viewer realise they are a husband and wife confronting their failed marriage and preparing for divorce. Born in 1985, Abd ElGhaffar is a creative director who has showcased his work in Cairo, London, Beirut and Tunis. In 2012, he published a collection of short stories, Plateau. This, even though he studied business administration and computer science: “I started working in the design field and then advertising for seven years in one of the famous advertising companies. I opened my own studio for graphic and poster design and then I decided to try my hand at screenwriting which really fascinated me. Consequently, I started to write this screenplay, and I think I have the talent for it. The script won the first prize in the Tayara Workshop last year, worth LE25,000.
“But the production,” he goes on, “was a hassle. There were seven companies producing the film, and I had to coordinate. There were a lot of people who worked without pay and I'm very grateful for them. It was a very tight budget and we had very limited time because I wanted to catch this year's El Gouna Film Festival [GFF]. There were problems with equipment and locations and how to synchronise everything to make the final cut before this round, so it was a real time race.”
As for working with three household names, “First of all, the Tayara Workshop jury included screenwriter Tamer Habib who was very excited about my script and encouraged me and it was thanks to him that Menna Shalabi was keen on reading the script, then participating. I called Eyad Nassar, who became interested when he read the script. Asser Yassin was interested too, we have a personal friendship that goes way back. So it went smoothly as far as the cast was concerned.
“Of course I have an upcoming project in mind, I feel I have a commitment to cinema now. I would love to come back to the GFF with a new film next year. After Fork and Knife, I feel I have to contribute something whatever it is. I'm more interested in narrative than documentary films, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't experiment with a documentary. My favourite genre is drama/romance. I admire Marwan Hamed's work, I learned from him a lot as a director, and among the foreign filmmakers I love David Fincher.”

Abd ElGhaffar
One of the most intriguing films this year was The Man Who Surprised Everyone (reviewed in Al-Ahram Weekly's previous issue), which received a special mention from the official competition jury. Its producer Ekaterina Filippova is interested in new and young talent, she says: “The Man who Surprised Everyone was just the perfect story. The film begins as a typical Russian narrative, but suddenly turns into a drama-tale about the trials of a soul and of a character.”
Regarding her experience in production, she said, “My first experience in production was a short film named Just the Two of Us, directed by Alexander Veledinsky. The film was in the official Un Certain Regard selection at the Cannes Festival in 2001. After that, there were several documentaries starting with Diaspora, made up of various sequences directed by more than one filmmaker. Now I am doing preproduction work for a new film, The Shooter, by 26-year-old Petr Levchenko, an extremely talented man from Moscow. The script is based on real events that occurred in Russia a couple of years ago and literally turned people's minds. I hope this young auteur's debut will be bright and interesting.”
As for the present film, “When I read the script, I insisted on taking on this production, it was very well written and the story seemed unusual, modern and suitable for all kinds of audiences around the world, it would break the barriers of place and time and culture. This is my first collaboration with directors Aleksey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova and hopefully we'll be cooperating on an upcoming film named Widowers, a black comedy mixed with psychological, conversational drama with a touch of Sorrentino style. I expect it will be just as amazing. This screenplay was originally very well written, we changed almost nothing. The idea was rather unusual and of course it took some courage especially for the Russian conservative mentality.”
“The director Natasha Merkulova heard the folk legend on which the film is based in her childhood. She was born in a small Siberian village where all confessions live side by side and superstition is acceptable. The protagonist learns he has a fatal illness and follows the ancient legend of the goose Zhamba who turned into a duck, so that death could not recognise him and so left him alone. So our hero too changes his gender to stay alive. The film presents the struggle of the man with this fatal disease announcing his war against the society. The more interesting task was to produce such a film. I could not miss this chance. I believed in this film the minute I conceived of it and I am glad that it meets the understanding of both audience and of festivals.
“And, yes, we wanted Eugene Tsyganov to play Egor from the very beginning. Tsyganov is undoubtedly one of the most talented actors of his generation. He is a real movie star in Russia. In addition, he is a very famous theater artist and a representative of the famous theatrical school of Peter Fomenko, known throughout the world. Preparation for the role was very serious and difficult for Eugene. He lost more than 20kg over a very short time. This role will undoubtedly become a landmark in his career.”
But the Siberian setting was equally important. “Nature was a very important part of the film's world, the famous cinematographer Marco Muller (former head of the Venice Film Festival and the current president of the festival in Pignao) said he saw in our film ‘the forest of art'. Perhaps this incredible compliment from one of the main experts of art house cinematography is the answer to your question. Thanks to our brilliant cinematographer Mart Taniel from Estonia and how he pictured the cold nature of the Russian forest and how that influenced and enhanced the drama of the film.”
We are all slaves of conventions and stereotypes. Life is much more complex and diverse. Man does not know his capabilities. Believing in himself he can conquer even death. I think that Egor, having passed through such trials, will be able to cope with anything in his life afterwards, because he won the battle. Undoubtedly, he will be different, but he has also gained new experience and become stronger.”
In the course of his CineGouna platform masterclass “A Journey Through My Career: Past, Present and Future”, the renowned Egyptian filmmaker Daoud Abdel-Sayed commented on Yomeddine, describing it as a fine example of the Egyptian cinematic identity. Regarding the relationship between artist and audience, he said that writers and directors should have the courage to impose their ideas and preferences on the audience, and not the other way around. “That is how films become works of art, and not commercial products. I believe that filmmakers and writers are able to change the audience's preferences.” Filmmakers have a responsibility to “create valuable content with a strong core message”.
The GFF's CineGouna SpringBoard — headed by Perihan AbouZeid — concluded its activities announcing its awards on 27 September for in-development and post-production projects, with a jury that brought together Egyptian director Sherif El Bendary, New Zealand director Marten Rabarts and Lebanese filmmaker Hania Mroué. The selection committee of the film projects were Perihan AbouZeid, Mohamed Atef, Hossam Elouan, Amir Ramses and Monica Hemming Rorvik.
In the post-production section, the two film projects 1982 by the Lebanese filmmaker Oualid Mouaness and Embodied Chorus by the Lebanese director Mohamed Sabbah won the GFF awards ($5,000 each).
In the in-development section, a prize of $10,000 from the Arab Radio and Television (ART) went to the film project Barzakh by Palestinian director Laila Abbas, which also received a $10,000 cash prize from Cedars Art Production (Sabbah Brothers), and a $10,000 award from O3 Productions (MBC Group).
A $15,000 award from the GFF went to Embodied Chorus film project by Lebanese director Mohamed Sabbah.
$10,000 from Maqam Productions went to Fouledh by Tunisian filmmaker Mehdi Hmili.
$10,000 from iProductions went to Gaza DC by Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi.
The unlimited location shooting services award of Dakhli West El Balad was received by Egyptian film director Ayten Amin for her film Soad. The project also won $10,000 from Eagle Films, $10,000 from Synergy Films and $15,000 from New Century Production.
A $10,000 award from Beelink Productions was granted to The Man Who Sold His Skin by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania. She also won $5,000 from Mentor Arabia.
A $10,000 award from Creative Media Ventures went to 1982 film project by Lebanese director Oualid Mouaness. It also won a $15,000 from the GFF.
$5,000 from Tayarah went to Fataria film project by Tunisian director Walid Tayaa.
$10,000 worth of post-production services from The Cell Post Production went to I Am a Script Girl by Egyptian director Mina Nabil. The project also won a $10,000 award from the US Embassy.
$5,000 worth of film packaging services from New Black went to the film Off Khartoum Sides by Sudanese director Marwa Zein.
A $5,000 prize from The Cell Post Productions went to Underdown by Lebanese director Sarah Kaskas.
*Cinema for Humanity Audience Award: Another Day of Life (Poland), directed by Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow/ Yomeddine (Egypt), directed by Abu Bakr Shawky.
*El Gouna Bronze Star for Short Film: The Sheikh's Watermelons (Tunisia), directed by Kaouther Ben Hani.
*El Gouna Silver Star for Short Film: Judgement (Philippines), directed by Raymund Ribay Gutierrez.
*El Gouna Star for Best Arab Short Film: Ma Ti'lash An Alhajib (Eyebrows) (Egypt), directed by Tamer Ashry.
*El Gouna Gold Star for Best Short Film: Our Song to War (Columbia), directed by Juanita Onzaga.
*El Gouna Bronze Star for Documentary Film: Almargoha (The Swing) (Lebanon), directed by Cyril Aris.
*El Gouna Silver Star for Documentary Film: An Alaabaa wa Alabnaa (Of Fathers and Sons) (Syria), directed by Talal Derki.
*El Gouna Gold Star for the Best Arab Documentary Film: An Alaabaa wa Alabnaa (Of Fathers and Sons) (Syria), directed by Talal Derki.
*El Gouna Gold Star for Documentary Film: Aquarela (UK, Germany, Denmark), directed by Victor Kossakovsky.
*El Gouna Star for the Best Actor: Mohamed Dhrif (Dear Son).
*El Gouna Star for the Best Actress: Joanna Kulig (Cold War).
*El Gouna Bronze Star for Narrative Film: Las Herederas (The Heiresses) (Uruguay, Noway, Brazil), directed by Marcelo Martinessi.
*Special Mention: The Man Who Surprised Everyone (Russia), directed by Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov.
*El Gouna Silver Star for Narrative Film: Ray & Liz (UK), directed by Richard Billingham.
*El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Narrative Film: Yomeddine (Egypt), directed by Abu Bakr Shawky.
*El Gouna Golden Star for Narrative Film: A Land Imagined (Singapore, France), directed by Siew Yeo Hua.

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