Imagine a somewhat low budget indie movie with only 4 actors, 3 of whom never acted before, and almost no dialogue. Theoretically, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in reality, it’s a piece of art.
The Gate of Departure (Bab El-Wada’a) is the product of Karim Hanafey’s vision on how to portray his artistry, and in return received much critical praise and an award at the Cairo International Film Festival.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a mother, played by Salwa Khatab. She was abandoned by her husband and decides to lock her son, Ahmad Magdy, in the house with herself and his grandmother, Amal Abdel-Hady, so he won’t leave her like his father. The only way out of this house, and his life, is death. That’s the brief idea of the movie. The movie does not depend on any major story, it’s only emotions and this life through the eyes of the son, mother, and the grandmother.
Experimental and indie movies aren’t a huge deal for the Egyptian public, yet this movie is somehow very intriguing and many who don’t know anything about this genre praised the film.
To know more about the movie, and Hanafy’s vision in particular, we sat down with the team: Hanafy, writer, director and producer of the movie; Ahmed Magdy and Shams Labib, actors of the movie; and were joined at the end by a phone call by Salwa Khatab.
Going into the interview, I was expecting the whole team to promote the movie and talk about all their accomplishments and be done with it. I was surprised by the amount of passion they had for the project, and how they were talking about everything with high details and not once tried to promote the movie, and they were very careful to not sell it out.
Hanafy first started by talking about the movie and the idea behind it.
“The idea of making a movie for the purpose of sending a certain message to the audience isn’t really the case now. The movie is simply about the idea of life and death and how it’s viewed by these characters. The movie is also about the characters, who are all equally important, their stories and how things are different from the three generations. Each character answers what life and death are through their eyes.”
He then proceeded to talk about the movie writing process and how it was formed.
“Before you start any movie, you have to have a vision. The visions are then translated in drama, and there are many types of dramas, but let me talk about 2 particular types – the internal and external struggles. The external struggle is when the character overcomes problems or obstacles and they’re all depending on external factors; Rocky and Rambo are the best examples for this.
Then there’s another view on drama, and on humanity in general, which is the internal struggles. It’s the thought of the only obstacle a human has is inside of him – the internal struggle – hence, the theory of internal struggles with characters is what concerns me and what I wanted to portray.
For this movie, you see it from 3 perspectives, and you witness 3 internal AND external struggles as well. The main character will turn into a secondary character, and the good guy becomes the bad guy. It’s like life, and how people see and feel.
And just like life, the external factors aren’t really important. They’re the tip of the iceberg, and the rest of the mountain is the internal struggles. That’s the main idea of the movie; how your internal struggles affect the external struggles, and mostly how memories and actions could change a whole person. In one way or another, the movie is trying to show what’s behind the mask. We all have a mask to show to the world, and have something much deeper inside of us.
The movie also portrays the life of a family that has no father figure. You see the experience from the perspective of the mother, which will explain her actions, and the same for the son. So their external relationship is affected by this, yet their internal feelings is affected differently, and that’s what I was trying to portray.”
This all might seem too complicated for the normal viewer, but Hanafy didn’t really care if no one understood his vision.
“I didn’t make this movie for anyone, I made it for me. I want to show my vision, not to have a successful movie, or make profit out of it; even though it had a huge success that I never even expected.”
Picking the movie’s cast was important for the movie’s production. The majority of the cast were unknown and first time actors when shooting began years ago, except for Salwa Khatab. Hanafy mentioned that he didn’t have any strategy for the casting.
“I started with a very low budget, so I wasn’t aiming to hire big actors. I was surprised when Salwa Khatab showed interest in the movie, and it was kind of a game changer. She’s a great actress, and her input made a huge difference, not just with acting, but with everything in the movie. She has much more experience, and her experience definitely helped all of us.”
I was surprised to hear that Khatab was in the movie by full choice; I was surprised to even know she was in the movie before any interviews. I decided to call Khatab, who wasn’t able to attend the interview because she was sick, to get more input on her role, movie choice, and overall opinion. She sounded extremely tired, yet she was still very friendly and happy to answer whatever we threw at her.
“I was very impressed with the story when I first read it. I knew I had to take the role, even though I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, because it was going to push me as an actress, and I wanted to learn. I rarely find roles that could teach me to be a better actress, and a better artist in general.
Almost everyone working had a new and fresh perspective, and it was very motivating. I was glad that I helped with it, and I wish I could work on something similar again.”
When asked if she was scared of taking the risk and working on such a project, since she’s already a well-known and loved actress, she said “Everything is a risk in our industry, but I didn’t mind working on the movie because I knew I was going to benefit from it anyway. I believe all actors should try this at least once in their lives, so they could learn and better themselves.”
We wrapped up the conversation by her giving some quick advice for new and young movie makers.
“Go out and try! The independent movie industry is growing so much, and you’ll be surprised by how many people will want to work with you, even big names. Get yourself out there, because that’s Egypt’s future.
As for the big actors, try something new. You’d be surprised by how much you’ll grow as an actor.”
As for other castings, Shams Labib chose her role and wanted to work on it.
“I’m originally a physicist, and was always a fan of movies and acting, but never thought of having a career out of it. Hanafy came over to me when he was still writing the movie, and preparing the characters to get professional advice on the character developments. I was very intrigued by the “Angel’s” role, and wanted to play it.
This movie was my first acting experience, and I would love to act again. I’m not planning on just acting for the sake of it though. I’ll only pick roles that will interest me, whether it ever happens or not.”
As for Ahmed Magdy, he was originally a student of Hanafy’s filming school. “Before taking the role, I knew Hanafy was working on something and as soon as he talked with me about it, I knew I had to take the role.”
Bear in mind that Ahmed started working on this movie before he was famous.
“This movie is the best example of what I want to do as an actor. I want a movie that will make you think, and make you challenge your own emotions. If I was offered the role again now, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s the reason why I chose to be an actor in the first place.”
(Full interview with Ahmed Magdy will be published soon)
The movie made a huge buzz before Hanafy even started working. The movie was supported by many praised movie makers from the start. One of Hanafy’s biggest supporters was acclaimed director, Ibrahim El Batout, who pushed Hanafy to apply for the Ministry of Culture’s competition for movie productions and financial aid, which he ended up winning, and did in fact receive the financial aid. Things weren’t, however, as great as he would’ve hoped during production.
“I won the scholarship from the Ministry of Culture in 2007, and I was supposed to get 25% days after it. It took forever till they gave me any budget. They gave me 350k L.E, and whenever I made any artistic decision, they kept scaring me and saying that I’ll lose the scholarship, which will mean I’ll have to refund all the money I received, and no way I could afford it.
It took me almost 3 years to have a final plan for the movie because of this. I was scared of doing anything. Other than that, the paper process was exhausting! Sometimes after a paper takes forever to be approved, I realize that someone in the ministry changed, and they have no idea what this paper is and I have to explain from the start, then they ask me to do the whole process again. There’s absolutely no communication, and I reached a point of dreading what I was doing because of it.
That being said, I did get a lot of support, and I owe it to the fund they gave me. Some might say the government doesn’t encourage arts, but my case is the perfect example for otherwise. I do have to be honest that it had its terrible parts, but the overall experience wasn’t that bad. I got the movie, my vision, out of it, and I’m very thankful for it. The support is great, but the miscommunications is a huge problem that has to be fixed fast.”
The movie was released in 2014, and is screening now in Zawya from the 11th of November till the 18th of November. Check the movie’s Facebook page for more information.