The Shadow of Cairo —when we first saw the name of the film we expected a dramatic film that depicts the dark side of our city. However, when we actually watched Tara Shehata’s short feature we were surprised to see it tells quite a different story. The director herself describes it here:
“The Shadow of Cairo is about a young girl, Maya, who blames Egypt’s societal problems, such as sexism, for her mother’s death. So, she tries to be superhero to avenge her and fight against injustice. It is a tale of reality versus fiction – can Maya’s whimsical belief that she can truly fight make a difference?”
Maya, played by up-and-coming child actress Yasmina El Abd, is gutted by the accidental death of her mother. She doesn’t know what to think and her mind instantly goes to what she sees happening on the streets to women. She then decides to take matters into her own hands and take to the streets.
The Shadow of Cairo depicts a very important subject which is sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt.
It’s undoubtedly one of the worst problems our society –specifically the Egyptian woman— faces. However, that’s not exactly what the film’s actual story starts as.
“When I set out to make The Shadow of Cairo, I wasn’t thinking that I wanted it to be a feminist, anti-sexual harassment film. I just wanted to tell the story of a young girl in Egypt and the conflicts she’d have to face. That’s when the issue of sexual harassment arose. It felt like the conflict she would have to face the most in her life,” Tara says.
Ironically, while filming The Shadow of Cairo, Tara tells us they actually did face similar problems—since they were filming on the actual streets of Cairo.
“When we were filming, our actress was actually exposed to some harassment on the street. A man on a motorcycle slowly stopped near Yasmina who was acting on the street. As terrible as that was, it made making the film even more crucial at the time,” she states.
Not only did The Shadow of Cairo depict sexual harassment, it depicted sexual harassment of the lead character; a prepubescent child. This is something we rarely see onscreen. It’s also something that could very easily make a viewing experience extremely difficult. However, Tara managed to tread the line of masterfully shocking but not entirely grim for the audiences. The overall tone of the film –despite it tackling difficult themes like loss and anger—was quite optimistic and lighthearted at the end.
Tara Shehata believes the main reason behind that is Maya’s character.
“I believe the naïveté that Maya’s character possesses instantly alleviates the serious issue being tackled. The thought of a small young girl taking on older harassing men is hopeful and lighthearted,” she tells us.
Despite the Shadow of Cairo being met by critical acclaim, Tara Shehata states that the development phase wasn’t all that easy.
Finding a funding source was the main challenge at the beginning, so the first thing she did was seek crowdfunding, as most filmmakers do all over the world.
“In terms of initially raising funds through crowdfunding, being a middle-eastern filmmaker didn’t really help as most of the people weren’t used to the concept of crowdfunding. The idea of asking people to donate money and receive some perks in return, such as t-shirts and posters to help me make a film seemed alien to them,” she says.
In the end, however, Tara states that they were lucky enough to find people who were willing to support the project and invest in it.
Tara Shehata also raised a very important point when it came to the challenges she faced as a woman in the film industry.
“As a woman, the challenge I faced was mostly feeling like I needed to seem tough so people can take me seriously. I also always feel like anything we do as women is instantly associated with our gender.”
“When I make a film, it suddenly becomes a film made “by a woman”, which is something that bothers me. It’s as though the norm is man and when women make something it becomes a special thing,” she states.
Fortunately, all of these challenges passed and The Shadow of Cairo was quite successful. It was so successful it was featured in multiple film festivals. Audiences from Egypt and all over the world expressed their admiration for it.
This overwhelming positive feedback has actually encouraged Tara Shehata to take The Shadow of Cairo one step further. She’s developing the project into a feature film set to film in 2021.
“As of now we’re looking for producers and people interested to fund the film! I’m also currently developing a short documentary on Public Displays of Affection in Egypt,” she tells us.
In the end, we’d like to say that The Shadow of Cairo was indeed a breath of fresh air. The story, the acting, the directing style; even the music was great! It truly showcased the talent and passion of everyone involved in the project. Additionally, it discussed such an important issue in such a refreshing way. We can’t wait to see more films like The Shadow of Cairo by more filmmakers like Tara Shehata.