Filmmaker Explores Nubian Heritage, Shoots In Local Dialect
Egyptian writer-director travels to Upper Egypt to investigate Nubian heritage.
by Sherif Awad
Among the films selected in the short competition of the fifth edition of the Luxor African Film Festival in March was the Egyptian short film Jareedy that was shot across Nubia, for the first in Nubian dialect. The film was directed by Cairo-born filmmaker Mohamed Hisham who imagined the story of a young Nubian boy named Konnaf who is facing his lifelong fear of navigating and swimming in order to reach a rock in the middle of the Nile on a traditional boat named Jareedy.
Throughout his journey, the young boy is guided and mentored by Abraz, an old craftsman who becomes a source of inspiration to Konnaf and his generation. Egypt Today met Hisham to speak about his film, which also screened at the 8th Annual International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London last February.
Tell us a little about yourself.
After high school, I struggled to get into the Egyptian Higher Institute of Cinema, but I could not after four unsuccessful attempts. Eventually, I was admitted to AUC, where I got my diploma degree in studio management. Deep within, I knew that would lead me to my dreams of becoming a filmmaker somehow. I began my career as a freelance editor in various studios. Then, I moved to Dubai and pursued my career as a creative editor and director. As time flew by, I was feeling empty and unenlightened until I decided to follow my dreams in creating films that hopefully would have a major influence on future cinematic generations. That is what I wanted: I wanted to document life, particularly life in Egypt and its unheard voices.
Tell us about the films you made before Jareedy.
Jareedy was my second film. My first film El-Nas Doul (Those People) was a long docudrama about what we call ‘The Battle of the Camel’ that took place on February 2, 2011. That day, in Tahrir Square, I found a diary by someone I did not know and I decided to keep it. Although I left Egypt, I started to read this diary and found out that its writer always referred to the people involved in the Tahrir massacre as ‘Those People.’ This term resonated with most of us, who also referred to ourselves and our friends as ‘Those People.’ With this in mind, I decided to return to Egypt to investigate and search for ‘Those People.’ The reality of my discovery was far beyond my wildest imagination, and I’ve encountered victims of the events who shared their take on the term ‘Those People.’ What drove you to set a story in Nubia and use Nubian dialect?
I wanted to tell the story in the mother tongue to reflect on the origins of Nubians and their Egyptian roots. Because I did not understand the Nubian dialect, I actually had to record many audio files and numerate them to be able to work on the editing of the film, which was a very difficult process.[caption id="attachment_502768" align="alignnone" width="620"] On location during the filming of Jareedy.[/caption]
How did you come up with the story of Konnaf?
No one really knows where ideas come from. I think with meditation and immersion in different subjects one becomes prone and more sensitive to receiving inspiration and ideas, which I consider to be messages or gifts from the universe. I have paid Aswan and Nubia several visits where I was introduced to the jareedy, which is the small Nubian boat that children create with their own hands. This to me represented the means to conquer the fear of the Nile River. In addition, the nostalgia that the Nubians carried around for their sunken land left a huge impact on me. The knowing that there is no way of returning to their homeland somehow compelled me to direct this film and tell this story.
How did you prepare for the shooting and casting of the film?
I spent a year and a half traveling between Dubai and Cairo then to Aswan and Nubia to scout for the perfect locations for the film. The region is distinctive with its magical nature, between the Nile River to the granite rocks, the desert sands and the forests of green trees. During this period, I took many photographs that helped me determine where to film my scenes. I also familiarized myself with the residents of the area and chose some of them to be my main actors in the film because no professional actor can deal with nature the way they do. They are living at the heart of their culture and heritage, which was crucial to maintain the credibility of my story.
What was the challenge in casting young children and amateurs?
Dealing with the actors was the most challenging part of this project as they didn’t really know the story of the film but were instead following my instructions in both performance and dialogue. Where did you end up shooting the film?
I shot the film in Gharb Suhail village, El-Shallal and Barbar. All of these places, on the other side of Aswan, we now call Nubia. I spent more than 14 days shooting there. I had a lot of amazing memories, hard times and a lot of magical memories.
Tell us about the award you got in London.
The film was nominated at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London for Best Edit and Best Cinematography for Foreign Language Short. We won the latter. The film was also screened two times because they were very interested in knowing more about Nubia and its people.[caption id="attachment_502769" align="alignnone" width="620"] Mohamed Hisham, third from right, at the International Filmmaker Festival of World Cinema in London.[/caption]
What will your next projects be?
I am currently working on a new feature film, yet still looking for funds. It will be titled The Bridge. It is inspired by my personal experience of the Egyptian revolution that took place in 2011. I was standing on Qasr Al-Nile Bridge and witnessed the huge conflict that occurred between the police and the people, an event that had the whole world watching. The idea of this film depicts the transformation of a person trying to cross from one side of the bridge to the other: a person who was at one end of the bridge in the afternoon to never be the same person once he finally makes his journey to the other side onto Tahrir Square - a passage that occurs in just three hours.