Fifteen years into the filmmaking industry, Tamer Ashry is an established director, producer, and writer whose work has been recognized internationally and won numerous awards. He’s well-known for his movie Photocopy and the short film Eyebrows. He’s also passionate about making documentaries like Pictures from Gaza and the 7th War. He recently participated in selecting the movies of MedFest, an annual festival that tackles societal issues and their relevance to medicine in movies. We’ve met with Tamer to talk about his insights on the festival, and here’s what he told us
Why were you interested in taking part in the movie selection of MedFest?
I was very interested when I heard about their idea to tackle a specific topic every year. Last year was about women’s physical and mental well-being. This year they are focusing on children. They try to get movies that are of high artistic quality, and at the same time targets specific issues, which anyone can experience, and also spread awareness. I got excited because we don’t have a lof of these types of festivals in Egypt.
Why do you think it’s important for a festival to tackle the mental and physical well-being of children?
I’ve worked for a while on campaigns with UNICEF that target issues relevant to violence against children, either in schools or homes. When I was doing the marketing research, I heard a lot of stories. It made me realize how this world is full of problems that happen on a daily basis for kids either in school or at home or at the club, and nobody knows anything about it. This is what made me feel that we need to talk about this more. We need to have movies tackling these problems, especially for children since there hasn’t been a lot of work that targets them lately.
There has been thirty two or thirty three movies presented from twelve different countries, how did you feel about the quality of the movies and the topics tackled?
At the beginning, I was a little worried that the movies focus solely on the content and not the shooting and artistic quality. However, when I watched the movies I found that they were both rich in topics and also in terms of artistic quality. A lot of the films were featured in international festivals like Toronto, Locarno and others.
These movies are not commercial. How do you think we can deliver them to the biggest number of people?
If they are seen in more than one medium, through international festivals in the Arab world or abroad. But the truth is, festivals have a specific kind of audience. One way to make a large number of people watch them is through programs on TV. In the past, ONTV used to have a program for short movies. When we first graduated, we used to take our movies to the show. These types of programs are not available anymore. There’s also a new style of gathering four or five short movies and presenting them together, so people do not have a problem with watching a fifteen-minute movie in cinemas. Thus, you can have both audience and awareness.
Through the movies that were presented, did you recognize any difference between children’s problems in different countries?
Children’s problems definitely differ from one country to another, but the feelings that children go through either here or abroad are more or less the same. They’re all somehow relevant to discrimination, abuse at home, feeling left out and so forth. This is an important point because the problems are universal, so people can relate to them.
Do you think that Egyptian kids have different problems?
I don’t want to say they’re different. Maybe in Egypt we don’t have enough awareness to deal with these issues, so the kids themselves don’t understand that this is violence. They don’t understand what’s wrong, and what exactly they need to talk about.
Photocopy, your first feature film with a lot of prizes. Have you imagined this, or did you take the risk regardless of the consequences?
When I was working on the movie, I hadn’t thought of details or the consequences –people’s feedback or the prizes. I was just focused on creating a good movie with my effort and experiences through the past ten to fifteen years. I wanted to see what happens when this experience gets to the public. I certainly had high hopes and optimism, so, I, along with the movie’s crew, wanted to take it to international festivals. We worked hard on it to get it somewhere. I’m happy with it until now, but it makes the next movies harder.
Usually when people move from short movies to longer ones, they do not go back to the shorter movies again. This did not happen with you, why?
It’s only a form of transmitting the story. What makes me want to work on the movie is the story itself and if I can highly relate to it, regardless of the medium. The length is irrelevant, what matters the most is the content.