With only three movies, a TV series, and some short films, Director Hala Khalil has found her unique position in the Arab Cinema. All of her outstanding films are about strong women characters, and her newest film “Nawara” is expected to be released this March.
Many of your films have women as the lead characters, is this on purpose?
It wasn’t something intended, or something I was looking for. Maybe because mostly I am also the author of my movies, so directing and authoring are so related to each other. If I was a novelist the same thing would have happened, because my movies are part of me, I express myself through them, it doesn’t have to be things that happened personally to me, but something that interests me or gets to me.
Therefore, the actor or the actress in the leading role represents the author’s voice, so maybe that’s the reason my main characters are females, because they are my voice. Still the movies are not always about things that pertain to only women, but are more related to what happens in Egyptian society. So I can’t take sides, I have to deliver both from the women’s and the men’s point of view. So my three movies could easily be converted to have a male in the leading role, it could still fit. If it happens that I found a good script starring a male, I have no objection to do it, I will even be so excited and eager to do so. So the bias wasn’t intended.
In what ways can having women behind the scenes reshape how women are portrayed on the screen?
The presence of women in the industry of cinema is crucial, especially in authoring and directing. It’s more important also to have more female screen writers, we lack this in the industry here in Egypt. The ones that managed to succeed, like Mariam Naoum, are few. In my three movies I faced difficulties to find producers who would get excited for a movie with a female lead. As the number of female scriptwriters increases, the better the image of women will become. Because in our society, there is no real mixture between men and women; we do all we can to separate these two worlds. As a result, the two sides tend to create some misconceptions about each other. I can see these misconceptions in movies. Some male scriptwriters write scripts about women that are totally unrelated to us. They didn’t mean to but they just don’t know. In literature, we have Miral El Tahawy, May El Termesany, Noura Amina, Hanaa Atteya and many more from this generation’s authors who went extra miles in advancing female literature, and we should copy this success in cinema.
What drew you to Nawara, and what was it like directing the film?
The idea for the movie “Nawara” was the result of a load of accumulations from events that had occurred to me a few years earlier, most importantly it was the January 25th Revolution. This revolution was a sweet dream to everyone, but sadly it shattered bit by bit, and we fell into despair. Not long before that I moved in to live in a compound. The life over there made me reflect about a lot of issues, including the stratification of our society, the huge gap between the social classes, and how the wealthy people in Egypt were isolating themselves from the rest of the nation. We reached a point where the idea of living in a compound and in the rich districts of Egypt could be translated into a substantial matter; the highborn are surrounding themselves with high walls and with towering gates. Not everyone could get past those gates, it’s either you belong to this class or the working class that serves them.
So I started wondering about how the working class, the ones who cross the gates everyday to work in the compound, see the life behind those gates. How they perceived the people who lived there, the expenditure, the prosperity and how they compare it on the other hand with their own lives in their milieu that lacks any sense of the essential means of life. This was especially after a revolution with that powerful of an impact, which generated dreams for everyone. A revolution with the slogan “ Bread, Freedom, Social Justice,” if so, where is the bread? Where is the social justice?
All these thoughts gave birth to a character whose name is “Nawara.” Nawara is a modest girl who crosses everyday from her indigent world to the prosperous world behind the gate. I always puzzled over how the people who belong to a poor social class could without fail maintain that state of gratitude you always see on their faces all the time. In my eyes they are forever happy, cheerful, and believe they lead a life that is better than some others. It drove me crazy sometimes because maybe this acceptance is one of the reasons why there are no changes in our reality. That was how the story of Nawara got woven into a movie.
Most people would agree with me that the January 25th Revolution hasn’t reached its maturity and stability yet, or the stage where its objectives got achieved, or even reached its failure. Therefore making movies or writing scripts about the revolution is not the case so far. However, the revolution occupies a huge place in our daily lives, our conversations in the street, at home or even with friends. It was hard for me as an author to write a movie that has nothing to do with the revolution, that’s why it was a crucial background to the tale of this Egyptian girl called Nawara. The movie was like an exit or a solution to reflect my feelings toward what the revolution came to in 2016.
What is your vision?
I still don’t have a particular vision, but I am always searching. At each stage I feel that I can’t settle for that and I need more.
Why do you only come out with a film every so often?
It’s due to me wanting to create movies that express who I am, and my movies don’t always have the qualifications producers want. Producers seek always to copy success, meaning when a movie does well, they always observe what was so great about it to repeat it. And this way of thinking doesn’t fit with who I am. The way I approach a movie has nothing to do with how well this movie will do, but the topic and the story are what always capture me. So that’s the main reason it takes me so long to do a movie. I have lots of scripts, but finding a producer is the issue. That’s why I am getting into the producing world, because I am with the independent cinema.
What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I don’t have long term plans, but for the short term I have a script that I am working on, it’s a controversial one that I have no idea if the censorship will let it pass peacefully. It’s related to the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Egyptian society. Other than that, my latest movie “Nawara” is the first part of a trilogy called the “Sawra” trilogy. I decided to postpone the second part in the sequel because it is more related to the revolution more than Nawara. Since the Egyptian revolution is in a changing state, the more I postpone the movie the better. I am also working on a movie called “Bo23t El Dam.”