Cinema and Television might seem like they’re right down women’s alley. They require creativity, sensitivity and hard work, things women are great at. However, it’s still a man’s world. Mariam Ahmady is one of the women changing that, though. She is a director, who after a lot of hard work in the industry, released her directorial debut, Ana Eshekt. The series, based on a book by the same title, was already released. We sat down with her to talk about television, cinema and her work.
How did you start getting in the industry?
I started out around 12 years ago as an assistant director, and I started second unit 3 years ago. Last year I had two chances either to direct Ana Eshekt, or another series with another producer, but I preferred to direct Ana Eshekt.
You were an assistant director for almost 12 years, why didn’t you start directing on your own earlier?
It’s hard. You have to have your project written as a treatment or a script and send it to a producer and it’s totally up to him. It was harder to take this path especially that I was still writing my film. I’m writing it until now.
Tell us about the film you’re writing.
It’s a very artistic movie; it’s a very Egyptian fantasy. It’s a fantasy about the Egyptian people, which most people don’t believe in, but it’s there. It’s in Sinai, Luxor and Aswan. It’s Egyptian folklore.
Ever considered making a shift to cinema?
I’m actually planning to direct cinema and stop doing TV series. I have two scripts that I’m writing right now. One is comedy and the other is not. Hopefully when I’m done with them I’ll work to find a producer.
What’s the difference between working in TV and cinema?
Some people believe that directing TV series is harder than movies. It’s a thousand scenes that you should direct; we prepare for a Ramadan series 6 months prior to it. So you end up losing all your weight, you’re dying! I used to say I want something more than coffee, but less than cocaine so I can go on (laughs). Still, a film is harder for me because it requires more concentration. People are waiting to pay money to see this, so their judgment is tougher. If three quarters of the scenes in an episode aren’t very good, it’s okay because 10 other episodes are great. That was a problem for me with Ana Eshekt because I was not flexible. If I didn’t like a scene I wouldn’t let it go. I treated it like a movie.
We’re not mentally young anymore to say someone is influencing us or brainwashing us.
Is this a sexist industry? Was it a struggle to make it as a woman?
Back then when I was 16 working in this career, it was hard. It’s hard when you’re on set and there are 100s of people and only 2 or 3 are girls. You’re working in a man’s industry. Now, I chose girls to be my assistants. I’ve been through this, so I want to help them. I believe as long as you’re a fighter, you’ll get what you want.
Did you study film making in Egypt?
I studied Mass Comm. I had a course in the second year in University and directed a short movie. It participated in festivals and took an award in the US. Then I received a call from a director who works in Egypt. He told me that he saw the film and asked if I wanted to work as an assistant director. I tried it and it worked well.
You’re working with big names on your debut project. Do you consider yourself lucky?
Yes, of course. I get told that by my friends all the time.
Luck is great, but what else do you need to succeed?
You can’t be lucky without doing an effort. I was lucky, but I had to prove myself, especially that I’m young and I’m a woman. People could be like “yes, she’s good looking, but let’s see if she can work”. If I’m good looking then that’s your taste, but I’m doing an effort just like any other man.
Good work is happening lately in the film industry. Are you optimistic?
After the revolution, the audience’s taste changed. People have become bolder. The revolution has given them a chance to be exposed to the world. Movies have changed too, whether I like it or not. El Feel El Azraa’ changed something, too. It gave us hope that producers participate in big budget films and find in return people are watching the film in theaters. I believe we also need to develop the independent film scene industry. Like when we get together and make a movie in which many won’t be paid, we’d still find someone to distribute it.
What are cinema and TV doing for women empowerment? Is it enough or do we need more?
We always need more. Thing is, Egypt is a male dominated country that loves to watch female works of art. The last two years thanks to the work of people like Mariam Naoum and Kamla Abou Zekry, they proved that women are here. The revolution also had an effect, men started taking care of women out of humanity. And in order to take care of her, they had to know what she’s going through.
Do you think censorship in Egypt needs work?
Of course. The Azhar and Church’s roles should be advisory only. It’s very strange – I might be attacked for saying this – but it’s 2014 and we’re still discussing censorship! Why can’t we just screen films and whoever doesn’t want to see it doesn’t go? Every house in Egypt has an internet connection and a satellite connection. They can watch whatever they want. We can just write that it’s +18 and that’s it, or write a disclaimer like Bassem Youssef’s show. We’re not mentally young anymore to say someone is influencing us or brainwashing us. The part that bothers me the most is that they’re treating people like they are still in their bubble and don’t know what the world is like.
Who’s someone you wish to work with in the future?
Mohamed Ramadan. I believe in him as an actor and I think he has a lot to offer that he still didn’t explore
And what’s a project you wish to work on?
I’d like to direct more emotional movies. I don’t mean romantic, but emotional, something that moves the audience.