Actor/ theater performer/ director Ramsi Lehner – Photo courtesy of Ramsi Lehner official Facebook page
CAIRO – 7 December 2017: In a world where cinema is humanity, visual arts play a major role in operating as a universal language and breaking cultural barriers. Egypt has been long known to pioneer the cinema industry in the MENA region during a period often referred to as the “Golden Age Cinema”. Several renowned Egyptian artists have also delivered prestigious theatrical works over the past decades, emphasizing sustainability in visual arts. Although the country has undertaken several political and social changes over the past period, these transformations hadn’t prevented new debuts in the scene and also influenced new ideas.
Among the inspirational icons who sought to add edge in a modernized cinematic scene in Egypt is Ramsi Lehner, an Egyptian actor and an expert in visual and performing arts who has toured internationally with Temple Independent Theater Company.
Commencing his way in performance, design, directing, and coaching, Lehner spoke to Egypt Today in an interview earlier about the cinematic scene in Egypt, his coaching techniques in acting, and assessing a potential rise in independent films.
A founding member of the Alumni Community Theater (ACT), he has previously performed as an actor in feature films by Jean-Jacques; “Black and Gold” and “Harag we Marag” (Chaos and Disorder) by renowned film director Nadine Khan. Khan’s film has received the Best Film Jury Award at Dubai International Film Festival in 2012.
He mentioned that “Harag we Marag” has been one of the most special and unconventional experiences he was enrolled in by playing the role of an unemployed young man of a low socioeconomic class which he described as one of his “challenging” roles.
“The project was just beautiful and seeing its outcome and how Khan approached the film and recited the story with a very visual language made me feel that this is a work that is so different on so many levels,” Lehner elaborated.
Lehner has also pointed out other actors and filmmakers who inspire him and are effective agents of change in today’s cinema, including Egyptian filmmaker Sherif Bendary who was internationally praised for his “Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim”. Bendary is a unique director who has given attention to details, according to Lehner, and is able to effectively use visual language to communicate a story.
“I have worked with him before on a couple of other projects; he is very detailed-oriented yet also looks at the bigger picture. He also knows how to bring his characters forward and a proof of that is that the goat in the film became an essential character of the story and managed to trigger inner emotions within viewers,” Lehner added.
An expert in performing arts, Lehner emphasized that an inspirational actor is usually characterized by the ability to transform his/her personality and display discipline and focus while allowing themselves to be vulnerable in presenting the character they’re playing. He cited Egyptian actor Mahmoud Hemeda as his role model in featuring such capabilities.
Lehner often tells his participants in his workshops that if they find any role comfortable in performance it usually means that something is wrong with the actor. For example, an actor should express the character’s insecurities not their own personal insecurities.
“If an actor is bringing a character to life he/she has to go deep in to this character’s comfort, frustration, and insecurity. Even if there are things in the character that you don’t understand or you can’t relate to, you have to find a way to relate to them despite the difficulty of doing so,” he discussed.
Development of the Egyptian film industry doesn’t only need professional actors/filmmakers who are capable of displaying certain disciplines but also other aspects of the scene need to be considered such as economic value contributing to edged productions. Arts tend to be put aside during times of economic crisis such as the one Egypt is enduring, according to Lehner, however some funds are being provided by the Ministry of Culture despite its limited quantity.
Audience awareness is another considerable aspect to the rise of the film industry, specifically the independent film scene. When asked about Egypt’s status in the independent film scene, Lehner highlighted the importance of marketing and promotion as key players in spreading awareness among viewers about independent films.
“A movie like ‘Harag we Marag’ is an independent film that was not seen in cinemas, it may have been seen later in art venues, but I think the bigger problem is the marketing. There has to be stronger marketing for these types of movies. The power of marketing shouldn’t be underestimated. It is hard to define how people think of this movie because they’re not aware it exists in the first place,” he elaborated.
He also added that despite the lack of budget to promote Indie films through an effective marketing campaign, a different visual language is growing slowly in the scene and that it is only a matter of time before audiences can expect a good future for the independent film scene in Egypt.
“It takes people time to realize that people like film directors Amr Salama and Nadine Khan are catalysts for change. When people are accepting of different techniques of filmmaking or different genres, new opportunities will peak in the scene,” Lehner said while citing the evolution of theatrical arts in Europe as an example of how art requires patience and time to develop.
Audience acceptance is a major incentive behind cinema evolution and one of the elements in loosening censorship in Egypt. Lehner expressed how Egyptians often censor themselves once they recognize their limits.
“The community itself has a mass conscious unit that acts as a bigger censor than government-owned institutions. The censor is often “the one” who says, you know this is something that will upset the people, why bother? Therefore it is important to say where censors come from and dissecting them from the beginning,” he clarified.
Lehner is currently preparing for possible new works to be released next summer in parallel to his film and theater coaching workshops in Egypt’s downtown where he teaches participants the required techniques to focus on basics of a character’s physicality, tensions, and recognizing their own personality.
In recognizing one’s personality, acting becomes a message delivered to one’s inner self, according to Lehner who believes that acting taught him compassion and empathy.
“Not every character I play I would usually allow in my personal life or find likeable. In fact I would say most of the characters I play I would not be friends with in real life. So acting is an non-judgmental evaluation of exercising compassion and empathy within myself towards a character on paper,” he explained.
An ambitious performer adding value to the industry, he seeks to deliver in the scene, Lehner is anticipating new roles he would gladly play, including characters in which he has to change himself physically to portray.
“I would like to be involved in works in which I can change something physical about myself whether it is with makeup and being completely transformed and unrecognizable or through voice and accent changes. Doing something with my body to create an ability of the character is certainly different than the roles I play, where 90 percent of them are straightforward emotional,” he stated.
In retrospect of hoping for change in the Egyptian film industry, Lehner urges young rising artists including filmmakers, directors, and actors to be themselves and recognize their true inner self without imitating their role models or idols.
“The more a young artist understands himself/herself, the more he/she will offer something that nobody has. An actor’s body, voice, and personality are essential tools for developing in the filmmaking scene.
Lehner concluded that patience is a true virtue required for rising participants in the film career, saying that persistency and experiencing each audition without fear of the camera or judges are sincere advice to rising filmmakers.
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