Short Interview with Naji Ismail
Naji Ismail is the director of Om Amira. He is an Egyptian filmmaker who graduated from the High Institute of Cinema in Cairo.His short film Om Amira is based on “‘Amira’s Mother’, originally from Aswan, a [town] in Upper Egypt, is now a Cairo resident living on one of Down Town’s Roof tops with her husband, Gamal, and her two daughters.
Having no other option but to toughen up to support her family and her sick daughter who has a heart disease, since Gamal’s job is to occasionally collect the rent in the building, Om Amira, also known as the “Potatoes Lady” sells home made fried potatoes sandwiches in a side street, meters away from Tahrir Square where the spark of the Egyptian Revolution started. Her daily struggle starts at night preparing her potatoes to be fried in the early morning. Although having to put up with harassment and recently violent events due to the non-stop protests taking place in Cairo’s street, her smile and her very own existence is a comfort to her neighbors and running around protestors that she is somehow protecting their territory. The movie will take us through the details of her inspirational journey starting at night until the sun lights the streets of the city that never sleeps.”
Naji im glad that Om Amira has screened at 64th Berlin Film Festival and now it’s here in EBIFF 2015 What was the production process that went behind bringing your film to life?
The whole process started when there was a competition “Ana Hunna” or “I am here” in Cairo. At the time, we were already observing Om Amira in the streets of downtown and decided to turn her life into a short movie. Luckily, we won the competition and we were able to fund the project. The shooting took place in four days during 5 months in 2013.
How did you get started in film?
I graduated from the High Institute of Cinema in Cairo. In the pursuit of my dream, I participated in several workshops in writing, producing and documentaries such as the Danish Film School, HotDocs Program, Basics of Documentary Films European Program and others where he developed different short movies. In 2010, I received a two month scholarship in the University of George Washington in the United States. Later on, I finally founded my own production company “Rahala for Production and Distribution” and in 2013 the company had its first production, a short documentary “Om Amira” written and directed by myself. The film was screened in Berlinale 2014 in the short films competition, which was considered a comeback for the Egyptian Cinema whose last participation in the Berlinale was 30 years ago.
What’s it like to have your film in a festival (EBIFF) that appeals to so many cultures?
It is an amazing opportunity as a filmmaker and an Egyptian citizen to have my short movie participating in a festival that gathers people in the industry from all over the world. It gives me the chance to spread my message and my art work to an audience who would not only understand it but appreciate it as well.
can you describe your artistic vision In a few sentences, when creating films?
I believe that each story has its own soul with all its characteristics and details. I respect the individuality of each story and prefer to listen to it and direct accordingly.
What kind of message are you trying to convey to your fans here in Toronto?
I am very eager to come all the way to Toronto to meet fellow filmmakers and audiences. My main message is to make people believe that no matter how hard your life is, persistence and strong will are always the key to success.
What awards, accolades, and recognition have you and your films received over your career?
In 2008, I directed a short documentary called “171” which won best editing and best production in the Festival des Rencontres de l’Image organized by the French Institute in Cairo.
What are some ongoing or upcoming projects you are working on?
Currently I am working on a short fiction movie which is still in the writing phase.
What awards, accolades, and recognition has your selected film, received?
– Best Cinematography for Short Documentary – SIMA 2014
– ACT Prize for Best Film about Women – Ismailia International Film Festival 2014
– Special Jury Prize for an Outstanding Film – 4th Africa International Film Festival
– Best Short Documentary – the 18th National Film Festival in Egypt
– Best Documentary – BBC Film Festival (Aan Korb) 2014
– 64th Berlin Film Festival – Berlinale Shorts – GERMANY
– ISMAILIA International Film Festival – EGYPT
– In The Palace International Film Festival – BULGARIA
– SIMA Social Impact Media Awards – USA
– Cinema d’Africa Asia e America Latina – ITALY
– BBC Arabic Aan Korb Film and Documentary Festival – ENGLAND
– 15th Mediterranean Film Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina
– 4TH AFRICA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL – AFRIFF- Lagos – Nigeria
– 56th Edition of the International Festival of Documentary and Short Film of Bilbao – ZINEBI Spain
– INTERNATIONAL NUREMBERG HUMAN RIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL – Germany
– The Author’s Passage: Mediterranean Interlacements Film Festival – Italy
– Arab Texas Film Festival – Texas – United States
– Twin Cities Film Festival – United States
– The 5th Arab Women’s Film Festival – The Netherlands