Yousry Nasrallah: “We got rid of of Mubarak. Now we just have to find out what kind of Egypt we dream of!”
To accompany the Special cinema programmes from the Arab world, we showcase five interviews with five filmmakers from Arab countries. How were conditions under which films were made before the Arab Spring and what are their expectations now. First part of the series: The Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah.
Can you tell us about the conditions under which films were made in Egypt before the revolution and what’s going to change now?
Yousry Nasrallah: Concerning the conditions under which films were made in Egypt before the revolution and after, you could say that legally speaking, not much has changed. There’s still censorship, and the censorship laws are still the same. By which I mean, a first censorship of the screenplay, then another once the film is finished. But at the same time, for the film I’m shooting now, I could present a detailed synopsis of the film to the censors rather than the full script, the full screenplay, which was required before. So that’s already a first step, in that we have managed to change this prerequisite of giving all, all, all, this force that weighs on one’s thought right at the outset, which starts at the thinking stage. But there’s still a lot of progress to be made regarding censorship. What we filmmakers are hoping for, is to reach a point where all censorship of the screenplay is abolished and that there will only be censorship of the finished film; a censorship that determines only the age of those who can see a film. That’s what we’re hoping for, but it will take time; there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Will the Arab Spring mean you can deal with new subjects or treat subjects in a different way?
Yousry Nasrallah: What happens in any revolution is, everything that once seemed like an automatic response – supplied, ready-made responses – suddenly seems fake. So you have to start asking all the questions again! In film, both fiction and documentary, this means giving a free rein to questions. And suddenly filmmakers are in a new position, as are audiences, where we can dare to ask new questions. This is an inherent result of any revolution, revolt or rebellion. The very essence of rebellion is “questioning”. And I think this questioning will now enter filmmaking. The question I ask myself today is this… In the end, it was very easy and very handy to be in opposition to Mubarak. Honestly, you didn’t need a lot of intelligence, a lot of talent or a lot of courage to be against Mubarak. I think that other things are coming out now. Beneath the surface of the dictatorship, there was what one would call in a populist way, “the people”. And now you can see springing up a new kind of opposition to questioning, a way of thinking that is trying to convey other taboos, other red lines. For example, the main challenge now for us here in Egypt is answering the question: “What kind of Egypt do we dream of?” There are Islamists who’ll say: “Egypt must be Islamist.” And if you contradict them, they throw in your face: “Then you oppose the people!” Here, it’s a much more difficult kind of opposition, much more complicated and, in my opinion, much more revolutionary than what we are become used to.
What was marvellous about the 18 days that led to the fall of Mubarak was that all the different populations that make up Egyptian society were united in a common aim: to get rid of Mubarak.
Very good, we got rid of Mubarak. But now, differences are beginning to arise. “What kind of Egypt do we dream of?” That’s much more complex.
What’s your definition of “democracy”?
Yousry Nasrallah: Democracy can’t simply be summed up as the voice of the majority. It’s certainly not the idea that lost of political powers and authorities try to force-feed us, namely that democracy is just populism, a kind of “what works well” or a “what the people decide”. The minority is also part of the people, and a democracy that doesn’t recognise the rights of minorities, whatever they may be, isn’t a democracy!
Democracy is also a matter of recognising individual responsibility. There’s a kind of amalgam like that which often arises in times of revolution where a sudden, rather repulsive populism replaces the notion of what a democracy is.
Is it a subject that could interest you for one of your future films?
Yousry Nasrallah: It’s exactly the subject of the film I’m shooting right now. It’s called “After the Battle”. It’s a fiction based on everything that’s been happening in Egypt since the referendum last March – when changes to the Constitution were voted for in a populist way – and what will happen up until the parliamentary elections in November. So it’s an extremely difficult film to shoot in that the screenplay is constantly changing due to current affairs that are yet to happen…
Interview: Sabine Lange
Photo : © Raphaël Krafft
Yousry Nasrallah – Biographie
Born 1952 in Cairo. After studying economics and political science, he went to live in Lebanon where he became a journalist. He began his career in film in 1980 as assistant to Volker Schlöndorff on Die Fälschung and to Youssef Chahine on Al-Dhakira and Adieu Bonaparte which he also co-wrote. In 1987, he directed his first film Summer Thefts, produced by Youssef Chahine and considered as one of the films that most contributed to the revival of Egyptian cinema. He carried on his collaboration with Chahine as co-director of Alexandria Again and Forever (1990) and Cairo as Seen by Chahine (1991). In 1994, he directed Marcides and, in 1995, the documentary On Boys, Girls and the Veil. In 1999, El Medina was awarded the Special Jury Prize in Locarno Film Festival. In 2004, his film The Gate of Sun (Bab El Chams), taken from Elias Khoury’s novel, was presented in the Cannes Official Selection (out of competition).blog comments powered by Disqus