Egyptian actress Menna Shalaby has launched an initiative to help female Arab writers bring their projects to life, pledging to support scripts written for short films, feature-length films and television series.
Help will come in the form of production assistance or having Shalaby cast as part of the team.
“It’s an honour and a huge responsibility ... At the end of the day, I will also benefit from discovering a good project and taking part in it,” Shalaby wrote on her Facebook page following the announcement, which came during a panel organised as part of El Gouna Film Festival last week.
During the panel, Shalaby praised her own experiences working with female scriptwriters and directors, alluding to her award-winning role in Hala Khalil's Nawara (2015) and her collaborations with Egyptian directors Kamla Abou Zekry and Mariam Abou Ouf.
However, she admitted that opportunities for women working in the industry can be few and far between.
“The problem is, women can’t make decisions in our industry, which is really important. We have huge talent, but women are not at the decision-making level so that we are able to support each other,” Shalaby told the audience.
On whether there are ample good roles written for women, she added: “I always feel that there aren’t enough. I was lucky to do a few, but I need to do more. We need to do more, a lot more.”
The panel brought together renowned French-Egyptian documentary producer and director Jihan El-Tahri, Palestinian writer-director Najwa Najjar, Indian actress Richa Chadha, and French-Algerian journalist and filmmaker Dorothee-Myriam Kellou, alongside Shalaby.
The panellists spoke about the necessity of forging more collaborations between women in film and working together to ensure that women are represented in seemingly peripheral departments such as sound, editing and cinematography. They also underlined the need to find a midpoint between commercial and independent strains of cinema, pointing to the latter as a space where strong female roles are conceived but end up confined to festival programmes.
“What would be considered a win is if we can make a film that is true to our reality and, at the same time, visually pleasing; a film that people would go to the theatre to see," said Shalaby. "We have strong actresses who believe in the roles they play, we’ve broken many taboos on screen and we’ve taken on courageous roles. The question is, how can we inject new ideas into the industry and work together?”
Last year, Shalaby was awarded the Faten Hamama Lifetime Achievement Award at the Cairo International Film Festival, an ode to the legendary Egyptian actress.
Shalaby's repertoire includes 2004's The Best of Times, 2010's Microphone and 2016's Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces. She has also starred in a number of successful television series, the most recent of which was Mohamed Shaker Khodeir's Every Week Has a Friday.
Female filmmakers and writers can send their scripts to Shalaby, though the actress reminded candidates that projects should be registered in their creator’s name first, to protect intellectual property rights. Details of what production assistance the initiative will offer are yet to be confirmed.
"I expect a high response rate, so we ask that you take into account any delay in responding," the actress's Facebook post said.
Interested writers should send their scripts to firstname.lastname@example.org