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Q&A with Morad Mostafa, director of I Promise You Paradise - Clermont-Ferrand 2024

Thursday 1 February 2024, by Abla Kandalaft, Elise Loiseau

Eissa, a 17-year-old African migrant in Egypt, races to beat the clock and save his loved ones after a violent incident, no matter what it takes.

Morad Mostafa has a real knack for telling complex, intimate and three-dimensional stories from the perspective of marginalised people. A young girl and her mother in Henet Ward, a teenage boy here, all members of Egypt’s African migrant community. It’s a beautiful film, in which the play with light and shadows transforms this initially mundane but moving love story into a rich, slightly other-worldly fable.

I Promise You Paradise will be screening at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival.

After Henet Ward, I Promise You Paradise also deals with the plight of the African immigrant community in Egypt. What motivated you to tell Eissa’s story?

I always try to search for new stories to talk about the Egyptian society through real and different heroes. This time it was about a small family, and two people in love that society strives to keep apart. It is a very complicated relationship about an African immigrant teenager and an Egyptian girl. This is my second film that focuses on African immigrant stories, after “Henet Ward.” I lived during my childhood in a poor neighbourhood, a was very complex place. It had a mix of Egyptians and immigrants, each group with their respective social mores. Therefore, this informed a part of my perception of the world since childhood, through the prism of a society that’s a mix of different groups and nationalities, specifically Africans, because I am African as well.

What sort of research did you do?

It is not research in the conventional sense, as much as an attempt to recall some of the situations of that world and that region in which I used to live, by revisiting those moments and that neighbourhood. It is my good fortune that the co-writer of the film “Sawsan Yusuf” still lives in that place, and she was an essential scout for me during the period of brainstorming. Moreover, she created the story. We’d been working together for more than two years to develop the script and we wanted to make it special, because there were many films that talked about the issue of immigration, but these always have the "local" citizen helping the immigrants leave. But I wanted to turn that around, with the African immigrant as the one who helps and seeks to liberate the local citizen, helping them reach safety, as if he was promising them paradise from their perspective.

Can you tell us more about the use of light in your film? The play on light / shadows creates both a stark intimacy and an eeriness that permeates the film?

Stories are always, for me, the ones that dictate the method of narration and style. For this film, I wanted to leave space for the images, in order to tell the story with a little mise-en-scène in moments of tension, and movement of characters, but I relied more on paintings, especially since the places we filmed in are indeed historical and visually very attractive places. To come up with the frames and light, I made a storyboard and drew each frame before the start of filming, so that I could see the film completely and ensure its consistency.

Did the success of Henet Ward help in any way in making this film?

Henet Ward was the cornerstone of my career. This film and everything I did after it are ways for me to talk about different topics involving Egyptian society. It helped me a lot, especially since its world premiere was at the Clermont-Ferrand IFF. There, I learned what a short film really means, and so much about making shorts in general.

What were the biggest hurdles in the shooting process?

The filmmaking process was not easy at all. In my opinion, this is a road movie, and this the most difficult genre. Also, there was a limited budget for the film to be completed, so we had to compress the filming schedule to only three days.

What are your hopes for Clermont 2024?

I hope it will be a very successful edition, as we are always used to from the festival, and that it continues in full force, because it’s a land of short films, and a destination for all their makers. So I wish it all the best.

Any message or comments?


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