Nesreen El Zayat – Woman with a Voice

It is evident that Egyptian streets are not for women anymore. Walking down the streets is not an easy task anymore, since a woman is continually subjected to repeated harassment. This is one of the reasons that Nesreen wanted to make a documentary film about Rasha, a Journalist who’s politically active and involved in protests. She wanted to capture the life of a woman who would defy social and political barriers to stand up for what she believes in. “I’m impressed with women who can go out in the streets to protest, I wish I was able to do that but it’s not always easy with my job,” Nesreen said “I wanted to make a film that would talk about the lack of freedom that women have. I also wanted to encourage other women to become more politically active.” 

When Nesreen first started shooting the film, she didn’t have an idea in mind, it was a spontaneous film for the project ‘Mowatenoon am Raaya’ by the Jesuit in 2008. Her documentary discussed the stories of Rasha and Asmaa during their time in prison. “I wasn’t even intending to interview Asmaa, but her name came up a lot while interviewing Rasha,” Nesreen said “this made me curious to talk to her, too.”


‘Anbar 6’ (Chamber 6) was then executed.  In the film, the two women describe their experience in the criminal ward after being involved in a protest for the independence of the judicial independence. Though they were detained for their political involvements, they were held at the ‘Qanater’ prison at the criminal ward.


In the 13-minute documentary the two women talk about their experience and their emotional involvement with the women in that prison. “Being there was an eye-opener,” said Asmaa in the documentary, “we realized that the way we were conducting our activism had its flaws. Most women had no clue about the things were talking about and we had to simplify our language to reach out for them.” 


The women formed friendships in prison and together they reminisced about the people they’ve met and lived with for the span of a month. “In this ward I met the purest human beings you can encounter,” said Rasha.


Before shooting this documentary Nesreen had no previous experience in filmmaking. “I just took the camera and went out to the street. I took it with me everyday, everywhere,” she said. Among the obstacles she faced while shooting, was getting footage of the prison. “It was very hard, I had to shoot this footage from a distance,” she said.


Her film, ‘Anbar 6’ has gained more success than she had expected. The film won the jury price at the 15th National Festival for Egyptian Cinema, and got a lot of praise from critics. “Kamal Ramzy said it had a high sense of feeling,” she said proudly.


As Nesreen never studied film, she has a lot of background knowledge through watching films, attending festivals, discussing and writing about film in ‘Rose Al Youssef” where she is in charge of the culture and arts page. Through studying sociology, she acquired interviewing skills, and the inquisitive spirit that is necessary for a documentary filmmaker.


“If I had to do it allover again I would change many things,” she said “I wanted to capture more details and close-ups.” This is one of the reasons that Nesreen is taking her time before shooting another film.


“If I make a new film it has to be a lot better than this one,” she said “I will have a crew and director of photography. I won’t make the film in a random manner.”


Nesreen believes that through the growth of independent filmmaking, women are starting to have a voice in cinema. As for female characters depicted in films, she thinks that some films have succeeded in drawing a real image of women and mentioned examples of films such as ‘Sahar El Layaly’ and ‘Baheb el Cima’. Nesreen is aspiring to make a new film but is taking her time for the idea to brew.

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