Mohammed Hammad, The Observer


Watching people is among his favourite games and main inspiration for making films. As people go about their daily life, he scans them with watchful eyes and casts them as roles in possible films. “Look at this woman right there,” he said looking towards an old woman wearing a blue shirt having a coffee with two of her friends “this woman is living alone, possibly in a large house because she still moves about in a healthy manner, she doesn’t go out a lot and it’s been a long time since she’s seen these friends of hers”.

He collects stories from people, always seeking interesting incidents that are short film material. His main thematic interest is the life of the Egyptian female and it’s evident in his two short films, ‘Central’ and ‘Ahmar Bahet’ (pale red). ‘Central’ is a film about a woman, who works at a call center and eavesdrops on the people who make their calls from there. She’s the only one, who knew all their dirty secrets. “I wanted to make a film that holds several stories in one location,” Hammad said “in order to make this film I went to a call center on a daily basis for a month to observe the place and its happenings”.

The film was criticized for containing coarse language, however Hammad was aiming to portray an image as realistic as possible. “I don’t understand why we would approve of such language in our daily life but not in film,” he said “I used to record people’s conversations and listen to them afterwards. That’s the language that people use”.

His film ‘Ahmar Bahet’, for which he won two awards for best short film, one in the Alexandria Film Festival and the other in the Kazan Film Festival in Russia, is about a girl discovering her womanhood. “I was surprised when I won the awards,” Hammad said “and the funny thing is that both awards were received at the same instant. While I was getting my award at the Russian Festival, Ghaidaa, the actress in my film called me to tell me that we just won the award at the Alexandria Film Festival. It was very absurd”.

As Hammad is especially interested in the life of the Egyptian female, his film ‘Ahmar Bahet’ depicted a very sincere account of a girl getting in touch with her womanhood. Through simple dialogue, subtle visuals and expressive facial expressions, very intense emotions were conveyed.

His film is about a girl leaving behind her old childish home wear and purchasing new lingerie that is more suitable for a woman. “I’m interested in what women go through here in Egypt,” he said “especially from the ages between 16 and 25. Society puts a lot of pressure on them and makes them ashamed of their bodies, and it also makes the transition to womanhood a lot harder”.

His interest in film started out, during his school years. After encountering some problems in school with his classmates, he used to skip school and go to watch movies at a local cinema. “I could watch four or five films a day”. The interest then grew when he started writing sketches for the children’s show Sesame Street. After that he applied for the Cinema Institute in Cairo and got accepted. He didn’t enjoy studying there for he was taught the craft of the Egyptian Commercial Cinema, a style he wanted to stray away from. “Most of my colleagues were competing who would come up with the funniest sketch,” he said “I didn’t enjoy working in an environment as such”.

He wrote his first script for a short film called ‘El Geneh El Khames’, a story about the sexual acts that take place in public busses. He also worked on several documentaries. “My work in documentaries was never with much interest. I always take it as a job and save up the money I get from these documentaries to make my own films”.

Through making ‘Ahmar Bahet’, Hammad said that he learned a lot of things. One of which is how the actor is the most organic process in the filmmaking. “I put a lot of effort in training Ghaidaa, who lacked acting experience,” he said “she actually came to the casting with a friend of hers and wasn’t intending to act”. The minute he saw her he knew she was fit for the character in his mind.

His next project is about today’s youth and the new cities that are built around Cairo, those new cities that promise prosperity and a good life.

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