It Takes a Village to Tell a Story: a Conversation with Reem Ossama

It Takes a Village Reem Ossama

“What happens when we sit down to listen and talk?” answered Reem Ossama when asked to describe her latest documentary It Takes a Village in one sentence. The documentary has recently won the “Best Short Documentary” Award at the New York Movie Awards, the “Best Film with Impact” in Aswan Film Festival, and Newgate Inspiration Award from UN Women GCC.

It Takes a Village tells the story of the three girls; Alaa, Samaa, and Noura. The three of these girls have one thing in common and that thing is passion. They want to change something in the world and they’re starting with the one around them. It Takes a Village tells their story, in the simplest yet most profound way. Then, it takes us to sit with them when they all meet and talk about their lives

It Takes a Village Gouna Film Festival
Picture Credits: Osama Hamam

It Takes a Village first screened on October 18, 2021, at a special event in El Gouna International Film Festival (GFF), under the auspices of the National Council for Women (NCW) and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), in cooperation with UNICEF and with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the support of Dawwie National Initiative. 

It Takes a Village is not only a representation of young girls in Egypt, it is also an ode to friendship, life, family, support, and most importantly, love and conversation. There was no better way to talk about the film than also to have a conversation with the woman behind it; Reem Ossama. 

It Takes a Village Behind the Scenes
Picture Credits: Ahmed Hayman
Where it Started

Reem Ossama found her passion for films when she was only 6 years old when her sister had to watch Great Expectations and write an essay about it. Reem just sat down to watch and everything changed for her at that moment. Coming from a family of doctors, Reem didn’t think that filmmaking was an option for her, until that moment when everything just made sense when she sat down and watched the film with her sister. She ended up helping her with the essay to get the full mark. 


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A post shared by Reem Ossama (@reemossama_)

“There was a storm going on inside me, I was very moved. It was a very hard film to understand as a grownup, but for some reason, for me, it made perfect sense. […]

“I felt those extremely vibrant feelings, like that was the language I was looking for.”

“I can’t recall a certain moment where I felt I was going to be a filmmaker, but I think this was one of the main triggers, and I was so young but I understood it.” Recalled Reem 

Turning Point

That is when everything started for Reem. She had an old camera, and she would take pictures and stitch them together at every chance she got. However, college was the real turning point for Reem, it’s where she was able to study Media Design at GUC and fulfill her need to learn and understand visuals. 

“I started finding the topics I’m interested in. I’m always interested in topics that have to do with humanity, sociology, philosophy, politics, etc….

I love to see how people connect together.

[…] People started liking my work and I found the personal aspect of filmmaking. I kept going not because I wanted to prove something but because I can’t live without this, ever. I wouldn’t be able to.” 

All it Takes is Someone to Believe

Reem then started approaching artists to work with them and around the same time, she met Emel Mathlouthi who’s an international Tunisian artist. She worked with her on a music video. 

“She trusted me. I found out that it’s about finding people like you that would give you the space to do that. Everything I put out is from inside me. I believed it and it looked like me. So I started finding my identity.”

Reem understood so much about her work and identity as she moved forward with her projects. She kept reflecting her identity and love for filmmaking in her work. It Takes a Village was no different than Reem’s honest and vulnerable approach to cinema. When Reem Ossama learned of Dawwie’s initiative and the amazing work Dawwie doing with girls all over Egypt, she felt a great urge to tell the stories of these girls. So, through Dawwie, Reem started calling a lot of girls to bond with them and to get to know their stories.

It Takes a Village

“Unfortunately, there is this stigma that these girls’ families won’t be supportive to them, or that they wouldn’t be any different than other families just because they live in Upper Egypt.” Said Reem 

It Takes a Village

“When I called these girls and started listening to their interests and aspirations, I started thinking that there’s an entire world I don’t know about. And my entire life, I wanted to go there. I want to represent the people that weren’t shining, I wanted to give a voice to those who didn’t have one. I found Dawwie already doing that. They do such impactful campaigns that always echo with the girls. They support them, give them the space to be themselves, and provide them with services that can help their future.” She elaborated 

When Reem searched up through Dawwie’s profile, she found a simple video of girls playing with a rope. The game was if someone held the rope, it was their turn to speak, and the other girls in the group had to keep holding on to the rope because it means they were still listening. Bound by the magic Reem Ossama saw in that video, she felt that rope was the perfect symbol for the film. She started talking to Noura, Samaa, and Alaa daily for months in order to get to know them and know their individual stories. 

The Start of the Rope

“I would ask a question and see how they’d respond. […] I actually wanted to listen and not misrepresent them in any way. Each one of them represents a pillar in me, that’s something I really reflected upon and saw after. I connected and found myself in them.” Said Reem fondly 


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A post shared by Reem Ossama (@reemossama_)

“So, I started involving them in details. I told them that I learn from them as well. There’s no difference between us. […] I went with Hayman at first, so they started feeling that it’s like a family business so they felt comfortable. Until the team came with me. Everyone truly believed in the story and everyone saw how it was going to come out. […] We all had combined energy, that started with me and the girls, then it grew bigger and bigger. I had UNICEF at my side. Unicef and Dawwie were my references. They give me stories, case studies, and years’ worth of experience, and they all translate in my mind in the form of visuals.” Reem continued 

Home Baked Bread & Good Memories

Being so involved in such a humane film experience, Reem had a lot of memories during filming with her team. 

Reem Ossama Behind the Scenes
Photo Credits: Ahmed Hayman

“While we were filming Noura in Assiut, Noura’s family told us that we can’t leave without having lunch. We told them we couldn’t stay because we were going to Aswan and we had a tight filming schedule. We got out and we found the family lined up. They closed the road and told us that we weren’t going to leave without having lunch. We went in and ate the best Molokhia I have ever tasted. We were all almost crying from how good the food was. It was so green and beautiful alongside some home-baked bread, we saw it in the making. I remember that memory so vividly, it was very fun.” Recalled Reem

Stepping Stones

It Takes a Village had its own set of challenges and even though most of the time, they were colored by the film’s loving and supportive environment, Reem and her team made sure to overcome them. 

“The challenge was how to gain the trust of the girls and their families. That’s a big thing to film girls in upper Egypt and to tell them you want to film in their homes and their rooms. You’re getting personal, you’re not filming them on the street. You’re going inside. So, that was big. You have to have a lot of patience.” She said

“I would go to another level and ask if I can talk to their mom. Until the girls trusted that I wasn’t using them, that I actually wanted to listen and not misrepresent them in any way.” Reem continued 

How it’s Going

Reem didn’t imagine the film’s great success, she felt like she did what she wanted with the filming and didn’t think about where it would go after. Until the New York Awards. 

Mona Zaki Gouna Film Festival
Photo Credits: Maged Helal

“I felt multiple feelings, at first, I was very overwhelmed. Then, by that time, people started sending a lot of messages. It started getting big. When you find people you love are proud of this, it’s so much more. I was so moved because I was proud to see Egypt’s name among the others.” said Reem

“I always love to give space”

It Takes a Village is one true representation of undying love and support. We’ve noticed that vulnerability has always been a common theme in Reem Ossama’s work. Her projects are lined with an emotion that is not so easy to elicit. Yet, it is one of the most prominent features in Reem’s work, and it showed in one of her latest projects with Ahmed Hayman; Dear Future World. 


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A post shared by Reem Ossama (@reemossama_)

“I never manipulate people to feel a certain thing. I like to say or do things that aren’t direct and give space to the person in front of me to feel that they’re a person. So, I respect my audience. I don’t like to push them.”

“It’s not planned as much as personally, this is my go-to place of expression. I’m not the best when it comes to talking, so I take my time and do what I feel is right.”

“In Dear Future world, Hayman and I knew we wanted to talk about something that had to do with our fears. Most of the time, these are the things we think about. We always have questions and we share them with you. I don’t have answers but most of the time, I think about these topics. So I just push you. I trigger a part of you, then I leave you to decide for yourself.” 

Growing & Learning

It Takes a Village has been a true journey for Reem, with all its hard work and the turbulence that comes with big projects. Reem learned so much from Noura, Alaa, and Samaa, and she made sure to let them know. 

“I learned so much from them. Never underestimate the idea that you can learn from someone who’s younger than you, or for them to be braver than a lot of people you’ve met in your life.”

“They truly allowed me to get close to them. […] They allowed me to listen to them and to talk as well. […] I have so much to say but until now because I can’t grasp the experience fully.” 

It Takes a Village Gouna Film Festival GFF

Connection is one true miracle, and Reem Ossama understood all the lovely things that come when you form a connection with someone. Reem owes everything to her intuition, to the voice inside her that told her to keep going and to keep creating. 

“I believe that every person is here with a purpose and no matter the struggles and the circumstances, if you have intuition go for it. I feel it’s a language between me and God. When I do something and He responds, I feel that’s how we communicate.” 

One Village & a Person

It takes a village and it takes a person to truly believe in something and make it happen. The support for this project was massive, starting from the people to the audience. 

It Takes a Village Reem Ossama
Photo Credits: Ahmed Hayman

“I would love to give thanks to everyone, starting with NCW,  NCCM, UNICEF Egypt, Dawwie, and USAID. I would like to thank Bee media productions. Of course, my husband Ahmed Hayman, he is my number one supporter and cheerleader. I would love to give thanks to everyone at UNICEF; Communications Specialist Hala Abu Khatwa, Communications Officer Marwa El Behairy, and Social & Behavioral Change Officer Dina Heikal. Lastly, I would love to thank our great team of producers Zeina Eissa, Mostafa Salah, Tamer Ashry, Habiba Wahab. Content producer, Salma Abdelwahab, DOP the great Ahmed Tarek Bayoumi. Assistant directors Mona Amr Ghoneim, and Martin Mousa.” 

Make sure to check out the photobook for It Takes a Village, created by the one and only Ahmed Hayman.

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