The Conversation Starter: Amir Ramses

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Mon, 12 Oct 2020 - 05:18 GMT

For Amir Ramses cinema is not just a profession, it is his ultimate passion. In a short period of time the creative Ramses has made a name for himself on Egypt’s cinema scene as a distinguished and talented director. And his contributions to cinema are not limited to filmmaking—he also plays a key role in promoting the cinema industry through his role as the artistic director of El Gouna Film Festival. This month we chat with Ramses about his latest controversial movie Curfew, El Gouna Film Festival, the state of the nation’s cinema industry and his dreams and future projects.

What moves you to work on a movie?

It is always the passion; I only make films I feel I need to make. Exploring characters, attempting to know the world and people through making films.

Tell us about Hazr Tagawol (Curfew)

Curfew is a film set in Cairo in 2013, where the events take place over a single night. Faten (Elham Shahin) is released from jail after 20 years to face her daughter Laila (Amina Khalil), and unanswered  questions about her crime haunt their night. It is a film about claustrophobia, about being locked away with someone to whom you owe an answer you are not willing to give.

Why did you choose the Palestinian actor Kamel el Basha to take part in Curfew? 

I fell in love with Kamel after watching The Insult. I got the chance to meet him at the second edition of El Gouna Film Festival in 2018 and something about him reminded me of my deceased father, his smile, his character. It is not every day you can have a role that suits such a brilliant actor.

The main drama line in Curfew’s plot is very bold, highlighting a problem everyone knows we have but that many people do not discuss. Do you expect that the movie will stir controversy and be subjected to criticism? 

Well I believe the film will create controversy, which is healthy. Some topics can’t remain unexpressed—like I did in the Jews of Egypt documentary. First everyone thought it was a taboo but after I made the film it became open to public [discussion]. I think cinema should give us the chance to express our fears, pain and reveal our human side.

Do you expect that the current circumstances because of the coronavirus will negatively affect the movie’s success and revenues? 

I think cinema industry in general is suffering and [this will affect] not just the film. I tend to be optimistic and think that the situation will change by the time it is released, but even if it doesn’t, I think as filmmakers we need to [keep things going] and release our films to encourage people to go back to cinemas.

To what extent has the coronavirus negatively affected the cinema industry on both the local and international level? 

I think the situation with Covid-19 is disastrous for the industry both nationally and internationally. The projects that stopped and the limitation of audience numbers for health and safety [have dealt a harsh blow]. The film industry is like a river; once a part gets contaminated the rest of the river is contaminated too. I think that what happened to main studio blockbusters in the US affects even small productions in Egypt one way or another because it endangers the [habit] of going to the movie theater.

Aside from the pandemic, what other problems is Egypt’s cinema industry facing? 

I think Egyptian cinema is going through a rough phase; production and funding are becoming ‘monotone,’ pushing unique films only into the pipeline. Independent cinema was carrying a heavy weight during the last years in representing Egyptian cinema internationally. But making and funding these films becomes harder every year.

How much has your post as artistic director of El Gouna Film Festival taken you away from your work as a director?

Undoubtedly being the artistic director of GFF has slowed my filmmaking plans. It is not easy being in charge of the biggest festival in Egypt and maybe currently in the region, the pressure of maintaining the success level we’ve achieved since our first edition makes the festival more and more time consuming. I think the result is worth the effort but I do wish I had more time for my films.

What highlights can we look forward to in October?

I think the next edition of GFF will be marked by our new festival center The Plaza and also some of the digital and virtual features which we will introduce this year that will mark a new era for the festival. As far as the line-up announced so far we promise the audience the most important international and Arab films of the year as usual.

Even though other Arab festivals like Marrakech announced the cancellation of their upcoming editions GFF management are moving ahead with the festival despite the coronavirus pandemic. Why? What are the precautionary measures GFF will be taking? 

I believe we have a responsibility toward the cinema industry and cancelling the edition would have been a very tough decision. Many events have already been cancelled and cinema is living a time of great depression. Filmmakers in the region especially need the support the festivals offer them and we believe we have a responsibility toward them. On the other hand the safety of our guests is a main priority this year. We’ve been planning early for more digital features, creating social distancing in venues took us months of planning. Constant coordination with the Ministry of Health for a plan of action has been taking place for a while now.

How has Covid-19 affected the quantity and quality of the movies in this year’s edition?

I don’t think the quality or quantity of films we have has been affected. We are premiering winners of the most important awards from Berlinale, many of titles from Cannes, Venice and Saint Sebastian festivals. I think that pushing the festival back a month gave us a chance to be more selective and to take more time in deciding which films to showcase.

What works do you consider milestones in your career? 

I think the milestones of my career are Jews of Egypt which introduced me to international industry through more than 40 festivals, theatrical releases in various countries and the buzz it created in Egypt. Then Cairo Time (Bi Tawqeet El-Qahira), which the first feature I wrote and directed at the same time, and I think the topic was the closest to my heart. I got the chance to work with the biggest names in the history of filmmaking like Nour El-Sherif, Mervat Amin, Samir Sabry, Dorra and Kinda Alloush; it was an amazing experience.

What are your upcoming projects after Curfew? 

My next project is a comedy written by Haitham Dabbour called What Samira Hides (Ma Takhfih Samira El Ai’aa) and it tackles the world of social media, influencers and fake fame.

What is your dream project? 

My dream project is to adapt Beer at the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghaly into a film.

Who are your favorite actor, actress, director, singer and scriptwriter?

My favorite actor is Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, favorite actress  Maggie Cheung in The Mood For Love. My favorite directors are Wong Kar-Wai and Youssef Chahine, and my favourite singer is Fayruz—and I love coffee and am aware of the irony! 

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