Q&A with Mostafa Morad, dir. Henet Ward - Clermont 2020
Monday 24 February 2020, by ,
Halima, a Sudanese woman living in Egypt, works as a henna painter. On a regular working day, she goes to one of Giza’s local areas to prepare a bride for her wedding. Her seven-year-old daughter Ward accompanies her and starts to wander around and discover the place.
A well-structured narrative short and an impressive debut from Egyptian director Mostafa Morad, whose camera work and carefully selected intimate moments drop us straight into the chaos of the pre-wedding rituals and allow us to closely and emotionally follow the characters’ journeys.
Can you tell us a bit about the situation of Sudanese minorities in Egypt?
The situation of Sudanese refugees in Egypt is like the situation of other refugees; like Syrians and Indonesians actually, or Egyptians themselves like Basma and her family, all have similar issues and dreams and ambitions... And this is what I want to talk about. About 40,000 refugees, according to the UN, have come to Egypt to seek work or refuge from former President Omar el-Bechir. The question of refugees in general is a massive international issue that needs to be tackled more openly to uncover the ugly reality they are living in – and I mean in any place not just in Egypt.
Is what happens to Halima common?
What happens to Halima in the film is from my imagination as a director and writer. I can’t say that every time someone who is non-Egyptian goes into a house to do something they will get beaten up, but definitely happens on a certain scale in some local areas. Egyptian society has become violent and racist especially lately. I remember from 2 months ago there was a Sudanese student who was bullied by some other schoolboys. This incident was recorded and shared on social media and everyone in Egypt watched the video. This is a shame to all of us as Egyptians and I also recall that the issue was tackled by authorities, but I think that this it needs more than this because it was just one recorded accident! What about all those that aren’t?
Can you tell us about the filming conditions? Location, logistics, casting…
It is hard to make a film in Egypt especially these days due to the political conditions. Any director must start somewhere and I decided to start with Henet Ward. I decided to produce this film at my own cost and not to depend on funds as they consume time. After the production phase, other companies joined to help me in the post-production stage. Because we had limited resources, we needed to spend the money on basic requirements like locations, equipment and permits, and it helped that the crew worked with no fees because they believed in the film. The actors used their actual clothes except for some small items. Most of the props came from my house, my crew members’ houses or from the houses of the residents of the area. I wanted to shoot in real locations to accurately show Egyptian society, so I chose this historical place that is near the pyramids to tell my story. The house had a very important role in my story, it had a specific character, because of its space, its numerous windows and doors, which helped me mix documentary and fiction styles and use natural light – the film was lit only by sunlight and neon LEDs that were already in the house. We shot this film with in 35mm, because it is the closest to the human eye. The actors aren’t professional, and working with them was very interesting because they don’t have any background in acting, and this makes them more spontaneous.
What is your background in filmmaking?
As a child, I liked watching movies and my elder brother bought video tapes. He liked American movies and I watched them with him. After high school I wanted to study at the High Cinema Institute but I couldn’t, so I looked for alternatives like the Cinema Palace run by the Ministry of Culture, which offers 4-month workshops for filmmakers. There, I met someone who helped me work in the industry; he gave me a job as an assistant director on a TV series. Then I worked on commercials, but I had a constant feeling of not interacting with these films. I wanted to work in independent film and at that time in Egypt, a new wave of independent cinema started to appear. I worked with Sherif Elbendary on his first feature film Aly the Goat and Ibrahim, and other directors before finally making my first short, Henet Ward.
Do you hope to tackle more issues in Egypt?
Definitely. We have a lot of issues in Egypt and society has many layers, I have more stories to tell about the minorities and locals. I have two other projects, another short and a feature. The short is about the deteriorating relationships between married couples and the feature is about transsexual girls in Egypt and the issues they face to prove their true identity and the fight they have with the religious institutions.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
I love short films because of the sense of freedom that I always get while making them. The short format allows me to be free in everything and has a challenge that I love because there is always a story that you want to tell intensively, within a certain time frame, that makes you more engaged with the film and its characters, and for me it is a very important type of cinema… And there is always a lower risk in making a short movie. In terms of budget, less time, fewer people behind the camera. In shorts, anyone can make a film as long as they have a digital camera and the right idea. It is a great way to learn by experiencing, making mistakes, repeating and growing through it and developing as a filmmaker.