Hawi : Director’s Statement
Ibrahim El Batout
In 2008 I made my second independent feature film Ein Shams(Eye Of The Sun), an ultra low budget or a no budget film made without any funding from where so ever,which became the first independent Film to be screened in commercial theatres in Egypt after winning three best film awards in Taormina film festival, Rotterdam Arab Film Festival and San Francisco Arab film festival. After Ein Shams, I hoped that there will be more filmsmade the same way, becauseI believe that the traditions of local Egyptian popular tastes have prevented creative cinematic work which can compete artistically and intellectually with international film art, and I believe also that there will be no change in cinema in Egypt without a new wave of filmmakers making films and sharing core characteristics of method. This new wave wouldn’t happen if filmmakerskeep relaying on the studio system to make their films, or keep suffering from the lack of funding from national and international film market. However, I felt there’s a gap between what I believe in and reality, so I decided to make a new film.
I think my films are somehow problematic to film financiers and funders, because they ask filmmakers to give them a written script to finance it.I tried to fit my new project to this demand of funders to have a written script, and I wrote two scripts but the day I finish writing a script I start feeling it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It is against the essence of the cinema I want to make;a cinema that allows me to be free, to meet new people, and start making a film together with them no matter what the outcome will be. So, after few months of being stuck with writing scripts, I decided I should go somewhere and start making a film.
Since Alexandria in the north of Egypt has always fascinated me as a city, I decided that it will be the location of my new film. When I sat with my first assistant directorMr.EmadMabrouk, together we decided on two conditions; to have a hundred per cent cast and crew from Alexandria and to shoot in locations for free. Alexandria isan inspiringcity. It was the city where filmmaking started in Egyptmore than a hundred years ago. I wanted to know what Alexandria would offer me now. That was in October 2009.
Once in Alexandria, I met a member of an Alexandrian underground music group, he gave me their album which is not available in the market, and he asked me to listen to their music. The name of the group is “MassarEgbari” or “Obligatory path”. I listened to a song called“Hawi” or “Street Magician” written by Mohamed Gomaa, and I liked it a lot, the whole film started to be inspired by this song.
I spent few days in Alexandria, then the story started to revealwith its characters. I hooked up with the students from the Jesuit school workshop of filmmaking, and I decided to have them as my crew mainly to train them as future filmmakers and to establish an experienced crew that can provide professional standards for future projects. I also started to cast actors to play in the movie, and after few weeks of scouting, talking with the crew and actors, I started shooting. 19th of November 2009 was the first shooting day, and it continued until 9th of February 2010. I shot in this period 50 shooting days. In these days I served as director, actor,and director of photography.
Since making films is an organic process, and also a collaborative effort where no one can foresee the outcome with accuracy, I went in making “Hawi” with a clear idea of what I want to do, but allowing a lot of room for changes to happen. I wanted to organically integrate the city and the characters in my film, till the story reaches its final form and becomes a film.
Distinctive features of “Hawi” include shooting without a script, the use ofnon-professionalactors, and location shooting attitude, the avoidance of ornamental mise-en-scene but with aesthetic use of framing and composition, a preference for natural light, a freely-moving style of photography that relies on my confidence in holding a shot as much as needed because I don't like to cut or move the camera unless it is motivated, and non interventionist approach to film directing and an avoidance of complex editing. All of these features satisfy my desire to get closer to everyday reality; subject matter, the lives of the so called ordinary people; and ideology; the hope of political renewal in Egypt, which goes along with the loss of hope coinciding with the failure of the renewal. Each of these features built on the preceding one, culminating my goal of conveying the hope of renewal both in filmmaking and also in life.
This method of making films that I used in my previous films “Ithaki” and “The Eye of the Sun” is not only satisfying my believes about what is essential about cinema, but also provides the audience with images different from those seen in typical Egyptian cinema that 90% of its images if not more are created in studios, and there’s no space in it for the public, to the extent that it becomes a cinema that alienates the audience from reality rather than connecting them to it.I am not in a position to criticize Egyptian cinema and Egyptian studio system, but in my film I am glad to be using anew HD technology, in which take after take with inexperienced actors doesn't waste expensive film, itallows me to create the authenticity needed for such a film. Meanwhile, I feel that the austere locations of the streets of Alexandria are much better situated than any other carefully constructed setting that could be built in a studio to make my film.
This film is also visual driven which makes it difficult to summarize its story line, especially because I don’t write scripts before shooting a film. My film starts from my mind and goes on to become a film.The story is told with pictures; with minimal dialogue. The idea is for me to freely tell the story with the camera and not to load the non-professional actors with pages of dialogue. This method allows me to create a film that can be a deeply personal journey for me, the actors, and for everyone who helps me to create the film. IfVertov, Godard, and AbbasKiarostami have done this before, and they proved this can be a path to create an alternative cinema, then I can also try to do the same.