CAIRO: “This is by Barakat. If the state hadn’t supported him and other directors that time, none of these brilliant movies would had the chance to come out,” said Amal Ramsis, looking at a photo of Egyptian classic film “The Open Door.”
The Cairo Post sat down with film director and head of the Cairo International Women’s Film Festival (CIWFF) Amal Ramsis at her home, decorated with photos from classic black and white movies, to talk about her inspiration for her films, the festival, as well as the state of the Egyptian film industry.
Amal started working as lawyer after graduating from Ain Shams University, but chose to change her career after studying cinema in Spain on a scholarship.
She took the initiative to organize Cairo’s Spanish Panorama in 2007, after her return from Spain. At that time, they screened in four different governorates, and during that tour she said she was inspired to creat a women’s film festival in Egypt, and started in 2008.
Ramsis said the idea of the CIWFF is to relate to a woman’s perspective through works by female directors, noting that such festivals exist in a number of countries, but they were the first to bring it to the Middle East.
Although Morocco has a similar festival, she said, it is not annual, and is limited to works discussing “women’s issues” produced by men or women, whereas the Cairo festival showcases female-directed pieces on a variety of topics.
“The truth is that there is no such thing as ‘what the audience wants,’ there is only the choice that you give to audience. There are monopolies controlled by the film distributors, who have a stronghold on the industry. We, however, are not aiming to profit from the box office, this is not the function of the festival.”
“People used to attend movie festivals for a long time. They were the same audience who went to watch commercial movies displayed during the whole year, including critics and intellectuals. During the past 3 or 4 years, however, some festivals started to identify and choose a narrower audience they are targeting for their films. It shows when they put a high cost for the cinema tickets, or when they choose not to translate the movies into Arabic.”
Ramsis filmed “Forbidden” shortly before the January 25 Revolution, which discussed taboo things to do in society for different reasons, be it for reasons of culture, political or security. She was asking people, “In your opinion, what is considered to be forbidden?” The answers discussed different topics and extremely varied.
The film won 5 awards: The Audience Award for Best Documentary Film in the Mostra International de Films de Dones de Barcelona, Best Film in the Arab Film Festival of Rotterdam, Best Film at the Human Rights in Festival Internacional de Cine Invisible de Bilbao, Best Film in the Festival of Political Cinema, and Best Documentary Film in the Festival Internacional de Cine Pobre in Cuba.
Her latest work “The Trace of Butterfly,” is also a documentary, and talks about Mina Daniel’s sister Mary, and how his death during the Maspiro clashes Oct. 9, 2011 changed her life.
The culture of cinema réal does not exist in Egypt, and filming in the streets opens one up to suspicion from locals as well as police forces.
“As I was filming ‘Forbidden,’ no one knew what I was doing in the streets, and we had planned that if anyone tried to ask us, ‘What you are doing?’ we would say anything not related to the movie, however I wanted to rescue the movie, and fortunately the revolution rescued us all.”
“I filmed ‘The Trace of the Butterfly” for 3 years. The circumstances changed more than once, and sometimes I felt it was alright to film in the streets, other times I felt no, it’s not acceptable, including the Muslim Brotherhood period.”
The term “independent cinema” is one with which Ramsis takes issue; “that term became kind of popular and commonly used, but I don’t think that all the people mean the same meaning while talking about it.”
Filmmakers who receive robust funding from foreign foundations can qualify as independent, she said, but receiving domestic assistance from the National Center for Cinema, however paltry, disqualifies on as an independent filmmaker.
“Low-budget films are what deserve to be defended these days; these films are made by youth and are truly independent, made with their own efforts. These movies cannot ever be compared with those underwritten by foreign foundations, and shouldn’t be lumped in the same category.”
“When we find such movies funded from other foundations are considered independent and other funded by the state with very low and limited sources, it means that there is a real problem,” she said, adding “We don’t have a cinema industry because we don’t have the suitable conditions for it anymore.”
Many films, she told The Cairo Post, also suffer from insufficient distribution and advertising. For some independent films, she said “It’s as if it were a ‘secret’ movie; no one hears about it during filming or screening. There was that situation we used to tell as a joke for one of the directors, who made a movie and took part in just one festival, and later none of the distributors wanted to work on it because it’s a ‘festival movie,’ however he tried so hard to convince them that it wasn’t made just for festivals.”
A recent film released by director Hala Lotfy ,“Coming Forth by Day,” is relatively unknown because “no one cared to promote it enough,” said Ramsis.
The state, she said, is always trying to keep itself away from the market, and “only who can compete stay.”