15/12/2014

Egyptian filmmaker crowdfunds for celluloid ode to Bergman's Persona

Maged Nader will be developing his short film in Egypt's only hand-processing lab

Egypt

Egyptian filmmaker crowdfunds for celluloid ode to Bergman's Persona

Fathy, a desperate young writer, buys a bottle of shampoo, only to discover its label is an image from a Swedish cinematic classic, Ingmar Bergman's Persona. How did it get there?

Young Egyptian filmmaker Maged Nader's next short film project, Fathy Doesn't Live Here Anymore, is not only wacky in content, but also in form. Just like the early amateur filmmakers of the 1920s, he is going to shoot the film on 16 mm celluloid film and develop it himself in a dark room. But then, because it will be 2015, he is going to scan it into a high-resolution digital copy and edit it on a computer, adding still photographs into the mix. It's an ambitious and original project that he wants to produce independently, so he is crowdfunding.

"I saw Persona for the first time when I was 17 years old with my brother at home, and it was beautiful," says Nader, who is now 24, and has wanted to direct since he was 13. In the black-and-white psychological drama, a nurse, Alma, looks after an actress, Elisabet, who has decided to stop speaking. As the film progresses, the two main characters start confusingly to overlap, both in images and attitudes, until it isn't clear who is who, or what role they are playing. Since it was made in 1966, the film has generated countless articles, and American critic Susan Sontag has called it a masterpiece. 

"People always say that Bergman is very complicated," says Nader. But this film, in barely 80 minutes of black-and-white images, was visually strong, short and right to the point. "The two characters are a reflection of each other, two versions of each other."

"It was made in the 1960s and it's more experimental than anything being made today," he says. 

Nader first wanted to make Fathy Doesn't Live Here Anymore in 2011, as a graduation project in his last year at Cairo's High Cinema Institute, after he read a short story that a friend, filmmaker Ahmed Abo el-Fadl, had written and posted on Facebook. Nader was immediately interested in turning it into a film. But there wasn't enough room to direct something experimental. So instead, Nader directed two shorts: Daily Visit on 35 mm, the film industry's traditional celluloid format, and a second titled Tawasol on digital, and graduated.

But then Nader discovered 16 mm and Super 8, thinner types of celluloid film first developed as cheaper alternatives to 35 mm for amateur filmmakers in the 1920s and 1930s. He developed his first reels of cinematic film as part of a workshop called Analogue Zone at the Cimatheque, a new alternative film centre in downtown Cairo. Using the centre's -- and Egypt's only -- hand processing film lab, he has since made several short films, including a music video for Egyptian band El Manzouma, using Super 8. 

"Their music is progressive and experimental, so I felt analogue would suit it," says Nader, who points out that American directors Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson have also directed music videos. "I'm experimenting."

Next up, finally, is Fathy Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Entirely in black-and-white, like Persona, it is to combine moving images on 16 mm celluloid film, with still photographs, like in French director Chris Marker's 1962 La Jetée. (The film bears no relation to Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, says Nader, but he kept the short story's original title as part of his tribute to cinema.) The location is to be non-specific, like in Persona. "There's nothing in the film to say that it's happening in Egypt now."

The film is being produced by Rahala, the new production house behind Naji Ismail's award-winning short documentary Om Amira, and supported by Cimatheque, whose 16 mm film camera, film lab and -- soon, hopefully -- digital scanner he will use. "If it hadn't been for the camera and scanner at the Cimatheque, I would have thought a long time before making this film," says Nader, who now works at the centre, where he is in charge of the film lab. (Since the latest Analogue Zone workshop last June, two other visual artists have developed film in the lab, he says.) But Nader still needs to cover the costs of scanning the film, as well as finishing the editing and sound design. 

Hence the crowdfunding campaign. To this writer's knowledge, he is only the fourth filmmaker ever to crowdfund in Egypt, after previous campaigns for Omar Robert Hamilton's Palestinian short Through I Know the River Is Dry, Jehane Noujaim's Oscar-nominated long documentary The Square, and Omar Manjouneh's upcoming sci-fi short The Humanoid Park.

"Crowdfunding is the way that will guarantee me total freedom in working," says Nader, who is now following suit, after having helped Manjouneh with his crowdfunding campaign. "I will be my own producer, and make it as I want."

So far, the fundraising has worked well. Although his Indiegogo page notes that he has raised just 435 out of 2,000 dollars, he says that he has, in fact, received more donations in person than online, as most Egyptians do not own credit cards. (Those who have backed the film online include emerging musician Maurice Louca.) But Nader still needs 500 dollars to meet his budget.

Donations are still welcome online for two days, and for those who want to contribute to the project in Egypt, Rahala has promised to dispatch someone to collect donations.

Alice Hackman

Image: Fathy Doesn't Live Here Anymore

 

Crowdfunding pitch for Fathy Doesn't Live Here Anymore:

 

A music video for El Manzouma's 1772, directed by Maged Naderblending Super 8 and digital:

 

Maged Nader's Tawasol:

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