25/05/2014

Waves: a relevant, poetic meditation on revolution

Ahmed Nour's first film is well worth watching. But where are you going to see it?

Egypt

Waves: a relevant, poetic meditation on revolution

Watch Waves. With barely any images of protest, and none of Tahrir Square, Suezi filmmaker Ahmed Nour has made one of the most insightful, thought provoking and timely films on Egypt's 2011 revolution: why it happened, whether it was worth it, and where it is all going.

In his poetic, first long documentary, Nour tells the story of his hometown, the Egyptian seaport city of Suez, a "city of waves and crows". Its inhabitants fought against the nation's enemies and its factories were some of the most successful in the country, but Mubarak never visited in 30 years of rule. Its people were neglected, denied the potable water of nearby factories, their loyalty rewarded with a heartless ban on beaches and the murder of their birds.

In early 2011, Suezis spearheaded an uprising against a regime that neglected and tortured them. With fellow Egyptians, they dethroned a president, but afterwards saw no justice from the courts for friends and family killed during the uprising and no improvement to their everyday lives.

Waves is more relevant than ever today -- and looks set to remain so, as Egyptians brace themselves for a new military strongman as president, and the human rights activists who embody the January 2011 revolution -- one he claims to appreciate -- continue to be banned from protesting and sent to jail.

Was it all worth it? asks Nour in Waves. And, as such, his film is the tale of a generation of Egyptians who were born in the early 1980s and brought down the only president they had ever known, whatever their ensuing disillusion.

Just seeing Mubarak behind bars was proof that nothing was impossible, says Nour when I meet him: "It's really the master scene of the revolution." He speaks of a change in mentality -- a positive "genetic mutation" -- in his generation after January 2011. What took 30 years to happen to Mubarak took only one year to happen to Morsi. But hope? He says he may not see the change he dreams of during his lifetime.

Today, Egyptian activists and journalists are in prison, but they continue to write. And for the moment, Mubarak remains there too. This Wednesday, he was sentenced to three years in prison for embezzlement of public funds, even if the case against him for killing protesters in 2011 remains pending.

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So Waves is relevant. But it is also new in form: a tale in five chapters narrated by the filmmaker, with beautiful filmed portraits of Suezis, striking sound and haunting scenes of animated crows and men. Even before it was finished, the creative documentary was promising enough to attract support from the Arab Fund for Art and Culture (AFAC), San Sebastian, Doha and the French CNC.

Its director, a graduate of Syrian documentary filmmaker Omar Amiralay's Arab Film Institute in Jordan, brought together talent from all over the Arab world to make it: a Moroccan co-production company, a Paris-based studio for animation, with a team of animators in Damascus. They gave the project their all, in a time of civil war, hoping it would lead to future jobs.

Sounds like an interesting film, right? But where are you going to watch it? At the time of writing, you only have two options: travel to the Annecy animation film festival next month, where the film is making its European premiere with just seven minutes of animation, or befriend the filmmaker.

For despite outstanding reviews in Egypt and abroad after its world premiere in Dubai last December, a well-attended screening at Cairo's Opera House and a symbolic award from its French Cultural Centre, other film festivals have been slow in responding. And Waves does not yet have a local or international distributor.

Film festivals and theatrical distribution are important. In the case of Waves, they would give its crew -- part of whom are based in Syria -- recognition and motivation, but also its producers -- including the director here -- the possibility of making back some of their investment, through awards and ticket sales, to then make new films. Finally, Waves would find its audience.

When I meet Nour, he seems deeply disillusioned by a lack of support for his film's screening in Egypt and abroad. You raise funds and sell belongings to make a film, he tells me, and then you face people who won't help you to distribute it or give it a platform to give it awards. He pauses: "We had to pay $2,000 just to buy the clip of Mubarak's trial from Egyptian television."

As for the international market, perhaps, he concedes, programmers and distributors actually don't like his film, but he feels that the odds are already against him. They, he says, tend to go for the more "exotic" melodramatic films, that fit preconceived ideas about the region, or more reportage-style documentaries linked to obvious events in the international news cycle. 

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"We want European and American audiences to see our films to know about us," he says. "We are Egyptians, we are human beings with dreams. We want them to see the reality as it is, not as they want to see us... You are not seeing other creatures, but other human beings whose stories are similar to yours." Were Amour an Egyptian film, he adds by way of example, he doubts it would have been selected for Cannes.

"All I ask for is a platform that is fair and based on cinematic form -- and fair to the audience," Nour concludes. "We cannot continue to make films like this."

But within minutes, he is telling me about two short films he will next produce at Moug Films, the new production house he has set up with friends. And, as I leave, he casually offers me its equipment and editing suite, in case I need it.

Disenchanted perhaps, but the struggle -- political and cinematic -- carries on.

***

Just before publication, I learn that the film has been added to the long documentary competition at the upcoming Ismailia international film festival in Egypt. Nour is delighted. Perhaps things are looking up.

 

Alice Hackman

 

Waves - trailer (in Arabic with English subtitles):

Interview with Suezi filmmaker Ahmed Nour on OnTV (in Arabic):

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