Aiten Amin established herself as a director through sheer hard work, dedication and a whole lot of hustling. Her work in film – Tahrir 2011 and Villa 69 – as well as in television – Saabe’ Gaar – has captured the hearts of many Egyptians. This year, her latest film Souad has been announced an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2020. We speak to Aiten about her work, cinema and women.
Icons like Faten Hamama and Soad Hosny changed the way women deal with themselves, and tackled issues in their films that were sensitive at the time
Art in general, and film in particular, can be an incredible conduit for women empowerment. This is something Aiten has observed. “I think historically films played a major part in women liberation in Egypt,” Aiten says, “Icons like Faten Hamama and Soad Hosny changed the way women deal with themselves, and tackled issues in their films that were sensitive at the time.” Sadly, such powerful films are scarcer nowadays, “female-led films are much fewer now, even the female stars play supporting roles,” she explains. In a way, female representation in film needs more depth, “we need to get closer and have an intimate nuanced look at women’s complexities,” she continues, “we’re not just beautiful creatures, our problems need to be out there and we need to have open debates about them.” That being said, Aiten believes female representation is better in television.
We need to get closer and have an intimate nuanced look at women’s complexities
That is why films like Souad are extremely important, as they showcase the real issues and struggles of everyday Egyptian women. “I wanted to make something between a feature film and a documentary. It is a feature film, but it is so honest that you might think it is real,” she continues, “this is why I wanted to work with young women who were not professional actresses, and who did not live in Cairo and were close to the characters.” Aiten chose the four main performers out of 250 young women who attended the casting from many governorates. She, along with Mahmoud Ezzat, writer of the film’s screenplay, auditioned young women who were similar to the main characters, noting details about them to use in the film’s script.
In the end we reached something between what is written in the script and their improvisation
For the sake of authenticity, Aiten incorporated improvisation, “I would describe the scene to them and they would improvise in their own way. Then I would have them read it and perform it as it was written,” she elaborates, “and in the end we reached something between what is written in the script and their improvisation.” According to Aiten, this experience developed her not only on the artistic level, but also the human level.
She is a woman with a great understanding of art and her point of view is always in the interest of the film, not sales and marketing like many other producers
Souad is a passion project, which Aiten spent five years working on as she had trouble financing it. Then comes renowned producer Dorra Bouchoucha, “Dorra was the first person to get excited about the project,” Aiten tells, “she supervised the writing development with me in a workshop with French writer Sud Ecriture and was a main part of the project.” A producer who marches to the beat of her own drummer, Dorra was the perfect candidate for Souad, “she is a woman with a great understanding of art and her point of view is always in the interest of the film, not sales and marketing like many other producers,” Aiten continues, “she is my role model in work, a very powerful and intelligent woman. I’m really proud I worked with her.”
After Saabe’ Gaar and its great success everyone expected that making my film would be easier, but that is entirely untrue and I struggled so I can make Souad the way I want to
While Aiten’s work is inspiring and celebrated by critics and fans alike, there is still a struggle, “my problem is that I still have to prove myself as a director in every new project I take, regardless of my previous successes,” she continues, “after Saabe’ Gaar and its great success everyone expected that making my film would be easier, but that is entirely untrue and I struggled so I can make Souad the way I want to.” At the end of the day, this is what Aiten wants as a director, to be given the opportunity to do what she wants, “I want to make films and television series the way I want, whether they are commercial or artistic. I just want to do what I want,” Aiten concludes.