Amr Salama, Filmmaking for Absolution

Film junkies will find their cravings richly satisfied by Amr Salama’s directing and perspective. With projects that have been boiling in his head. he wrote, edited and directed “Zay El Naharda”, the movie that introduced him to us, in which he triggered the twists and turns of a seriously amazing plot. He’s currently living to capture “the universal human qualities” and highlighting them i his movies, short films, ad campaigns and even music, and by doing that he positioned himself as a filmmaker for “a cause”. We sat down with the man who raced against the clock of mortality, the director who calls himself “a feminist” and an advocate for “Universal Human Qualities”.

Universal Human Qualities – In action: 

For Amr Salama, movies are about more than box office and art, it’s a way of life. It’s more of a jolting, heartfelt journey into the depths of the human experience, “My movies are made for universal human qualities, which means tackling emotions that we universally share. For example in ‘Zay El Naharda’, the plot was about a woman who is regularly facing the same incidents that she faced in the past, and she tries hard to pause time so as not to face the tragic death of her new lover like it happened in the past when her lover died. All these are human emotions, human needs and desires that we all have, we all experience and share. These emotions make a movie ‘universal’ as people around the world share same desires. I can’t make a movie about someone who wants to travel to space just for his own pleasure, but I could make his journey matter if he wanted to travel to become a hero in the eyes of his kid for example”, Amr says.



Dilemma of a filmmaker:

It is obvious what a rough ride Amr has had in the recent years. The dilemma of the filmmaker on how to combine commercial success with artistic integrity hit him when he first started out, “In ‘Zay El Naharda’, I wanted to create something that reflects stories that I’ve seen before. It was named ‘Al Agenda’ before we chose its final name, and the character starring Basma was similar to a character I knew in real life that had a brother who was a drug addict. Producer and script writer, Mohamed Hefzy, told me why not write the script yourself, I thought it was a good idea and I wrote it. I met with a producer, who became so excited with the script, but things didn’t work out with him. I agreed with Hefzy who started producing and we hit it off with the film”. The movie wasn’t one of those million dollar productions, but it proved to reserve good quality without excluding any of the pillars of a good film, “It wasn’t a high budget movie, but it was made with serious awareness of production techniques. I wanted this movie to act like a business card for me and allow me to introduce myself, even the characters sounded like the director, but I also made a balance on creating their own voice as well. The movie looked like me, it was a reflection to the cinematic style that I always wanted to use, my ultimate beliefs which I wanted to forward”.  The dilemma that was blended with challenge started in the first couple of days when ‘Zay El Naharda’ was screened, that’s when the theatres weren’t filled with the crowd Amr was expecting. “In the first few days when the movie was screened, few people showed up in theatres and it was really depressing. I told myself it’s the end of my directing career! People were heading to see other movies as it was the small feast where all movies are related to dancing and audiences who are high on drugs, it’s known as the ‘Eid of Repression’. People who went to see it were those who didn’t find a place in other movies. A few days later, ‘Zay El Naharda’ welcomed its audience and became very successful but it was just a matter of time”. It’s not that easy to unite the audience under one movie genre, especially when the majority of our audience seeks movies with hefty portions of entertainment, shunning from films that tackle quirky plots, “I can address the audience with messages they want to hear, but contradict my beliefs; I’ll be a hypocrite. For example I can’t tell them to believe in the National Democratic Party when I’m not an advocate. I want to stand in the middle, talk their language and be able to forward my messages at the same time, but in all cases, you can never have one target audience. A film is a communication tool and that’ s very important, but to whom my voice will reach, I never know”. A director’s job description in Egypt is sometimes misunderstood, “A director must be a professional manager, managing time and money, in parallel to a good picture. He must be experienced in the storytelling of a scenario to the actor. Actually we’ve reached the phase of management and picture, but acquiring good communication with the actors isn’t reached professionaly yet. Hitchcock used to write the film and then place the dialogue on it, in order to be fully aware of what the film is talking about”.


Faith, addiction, obsession and everything in between:


 “Zay El Naharda wasn’t talking about obsession as much as it was talking about faith. The character of Asser Yassin was tackling addiction, but Basma’s character was about faith, if she knew her destiny will she change it or live with it as it is. The conflict between faith and destiny was exactly what the film wanted to shed light on”. Amr’s words have got us wondering, does he have a secret obsession we still don’t know about? “Well, right now, my work is my obsession, but I try to make a balance with  sports. Obsession can be good and can be bad. In general, obsession with what you do isn’t bad. I don’t want to sound like a philosopher, but there are four features of life that you should balance all together: work, relationships, a society that gives and takes and spirituality. If you didn’t treat any of these aspects with interest and respect, there will definitely be no balance in your life. We always tend to look at what we do best and give it full interest, leaving other aspects in the corner and that’s totally wrong. A guy who is totally obsessed by none other than his job will grow up having health problems and a son who became a junkie. That’s what usually happens when you’re obsessed”.


Being in the industry does require a lot of faith in your beliefs, especially with scripts offered to him that do not reflect what he stands for, “At the time I had an empty wallet, I may have chosen through a wide variety of scripts, but actually I decided to wait until the wait was over. I may have chosen scripts that were available at that time, which speak to some parts of the audience’s bodies, but I can’t do that and I don’t even know how to do it. I know some people want to watch stuff  like that,  people who may have sexual frustration, but I look at this case as if I sell grocery, yes people may need the drug dealer sometimes, but at the end, every one of them needs the grocery”.


Advertising- The cure and the cause:


In 1999’s ‘Fight Club’, one quote really stuck to our heads and we were not at all surprised to find Amr having the same experience;  “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”. What’s really ironic is that David Fincher, Fight Club’s director, used to be on top of America’s ad directors before entering the film industry. “I hope to always find ads for a cause like the ones I’ve made, I’m not that much experienced with the field of advertising, but I’d like to make ads that I believe in, with an effective message, a good one” , Amr tells us. “Ads are every filmmaker’s dilemma. You learn a lot through them as they’re built on creating visual amusement. Movies, are longer lasting media, it lives for ages, unlike series which live for a couple of years and ads which live for a few months”.


Amr Salama – upclose & personal:


Your favorite Filmmakers of all time: Kamal El Sheikh, Atef El Tayeb, Alejandro Amenábar (Open your Eyes), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel).Actually we have a very lucky generation today in Egypt that is full of promising potential. Young filmmakers who keep themselves up-to-date through books and the Internet. There is also a professional generation of producers which is very exciting and will let us see some good stuff soon.


The reason behind becoming a blogger: I always have something to say, and as a matter of fact, I like to get published and having a blog with readers is something I found very interesting. I collected some of my writings to be published very soon in a book that talks about the evolution of my character since I was a kid hanging out in front of some kiosks, till I became a filmmaker, what has changed through the years. I’m a fan of some young Egyptian writers in the scene like Omar Taher, Ahmed El Esseilly, Belal Fadl, Haitham Dabour, and I wrote in my new book that I was actually inspired by their writings, so if anyone spotted a similarity between me and them, please don’t be disappointed.


What women want: I’m never convinced that women want anything we don’t want. As human beings, we all need security, but we seek it by different methods. We all need to feel that we’re growing up, we’re developing, and we’re loved. Women measure this with emotional tools, men measure it by material. By the way, I’m a serious feminist! Yes, I am! All my movies have females as main characters.


What’s next: a new movie called Asmaa, starring Hend Sabry, Hany Adel and Maged El Kedwany. It’s a really surprising plot! Hend Sabry’s role is quite shocking, shocking in every bit of the word! It’s based on a true story too, in which the character had a huge conflict with society.

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