Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy’s short film marks a first at Cannes
The Middle East may be under-represented at this year’s Cannes, but it can take home one accolade: the film with the longest title at the festival.
The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Kilometer 375 may have numerous honours already (among them, the only film to force Cannes schedulers to widen their printed brochures?), but it’s also the first Egyptian film to appear in Cannes’ Cinéfondation competition for student shorts, one of 16 films picked from 1,631 submissions.
“It’s actually the first film to appear in Cannes’ official selection,” says the film’s director Omar El Zohairy, a recent graduate of Egypt’s High Cinema Institute, whose previous short Zafir (Breathe Out) won a Special Mention prize in the Murh Arab Short category in the 2011 Dubai International Film Festival.
“It’s a very simple film about fear. I wanted to make a film about fear because, on a personal level, it’s my motivation. I’m always afraid of everything – time, being here in Egypt, which is a difficult country to be in right now. The beginning of the idea was that I have an obsession with fear.”
Aftermath is inspired by Anton Chekhov’s hilarious short story The Death of a Government Clerk – about an administrative officer driven to his end through fear – but has been given a contemporary and Egyptian interpretation.
“It’s about trying to make a Russian story Egyptian, with Egyptian visuals and relations, but at the same time it’s very global, about a normal man who is afraid of everything and has nothing to do except be afraid.”
The film was shot in an old factory in Cairo built in the 1960s, which is when El Zohairy says Egypt began to lose its identity through modernisation.
“It’s very iconic to what I mean, that this is our modern life, stuck in the 1960s but without any upgrading,” he says.
For aesthetic experience, El Zohairy has worked under the wings of two Egyptian directors, Yousry Nasrallah and Ahmad Abdalla. Both have been previous Cannes attendees, Nasrallah with the revolution-set drama After the Battle, which screened in 2012, and Abdalla with his short 18 Days, which made its appearance at the festival the year earlier.
“I actually worked with Yousry on After the Battle and his previous film Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story, and with Ahmad on Rags &Tatters and his new film, Décor, which is in post-production. I love those two,” says El Zohairy, adding that he has, like many young filmmakers, also done work on commercials.
Aftermath will screen in Cannes on Thursday and is up for three awards from the Cinéfondation competition, with the competition’s jury presided by the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. After that, El Zohairy hopes to continue on the international festival circuit.
“It’s a great honour for me. When your film is selected for a festival like Cannes, it’s a great opportunity to be selected in other festivals. I’d like to go to Toronto and also to Indian and Russian festivals – new regions for me.” Then there’s the newly re-emerged Cairo Film Festival, which returns this November and has, for the first time, a competition for shorts.
And following on from his previous appearance at the Dubai International Film Festival, he’s also hoping to bring the short back to the UAE: “I’m aiming for Abu Dhabi.”
Here’s to many more expanded film-schedule brochures.
• The Cannes International Film Festival runs until May 25
Published: May 17, 2014 04:00 AM