'There's no fear any more': What Cannes nomination means for Egyptian filmmaker Sameh Alaa

His film is the first Egyptian short to be nominated for the Palme d'Or

'I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face' by Egyptian director Sameh Alaa is among 11 short films in the running for the Palme d'Or
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Director Sameh Alaa is already making history in Egyptian cinema.

His latest project, I Am Afraid to Forget Your Faceis one of 11 works in the running for the Short Film Palme d'Or, the highest prize given to a short at the Cannes Film Festival. This marks the first time an Egyptian film has been nominated for the prize.

It is set to premiere at the 73rd Cannes Film Festival this autumn, although an exact date for the event has yet to be announced.

For the filmmaker, 32, the selection was unexpected, but very welcome, news.

"It was a big surprise, but a good surprise," Alaa tells The National from his home in Brussels. "It was totally unexpected because for a long time, we didn't know if the festival was going to happen, even after we got shortlisted."

For Alaa, being selected for the competition was "hard to imagine", as his film was one chosen from 3,810 works hailing from 137 countries, according to the festival.

However, this isn't the first time Alaa has received international recognition for his work. His previous short, Fifteen, was the first Egyptian film to make it to the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival's Short Cuts Programme.

Director Sameh Alaa. Courtesy Sameh Alaa
Director Sameh Alaa. Courtesy Sameh Alaa

Although both shorts have a similar theme, he says he's given himself more freedom to take risks with I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face.

Alaa, who has been making films since he was 19, likes to work with a minimal script, so he can improvise on set.

While he is reticent to reveal too much of the plot, he says the film follows the story of a 16-year-old forced to take a "rough road".

He describes his lead character as someone who "has a special goal, something special that he needs to prepare for, but to say it will ruin the film for everyone".

After getting his bachelor's degree in Cairo, Alaa went to Prague to study directing at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts. He later earned a master's degree from the EICAR film school in Paris.

The nomination has undoubtedly given him the best encouragement a filmmaker could ask for as he works on his feature, which he hopes he can shoot next year.

While Alaa looks forward to his Cannes screening this year, and the film going to other international festivals, his dream is for the film to be shown in Cairo, where it was shot, for his friends and family to see.

The success of his last two films has also taught him to stop second-guessing his work, worrying if audiences will like it.

"There's no fear any more," he says. "For me to do a feature, after this success, it's a pleasure. It's the opposite of fear ... because I have been waiting for this moment, so I can make more films easily."