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18 Days that changed Egypt
Four days before he was going to the Tahrir Square to join the protests against the Hosni Mubarak government, Yousry Nasrallah visited his mother in her downtown Cairo home. When he told her that revolutions don't make appointments like this and as usual 1, 000 people will turn up watched by 10, 000 policemen, she scolded her famous filmmaker-son, urging him to have faith in his people. "I was wrong and my mother was right, " confesses Nasrallah. "Every city in Egypt was protesting on January 25. It was a revolution. " Nasrallah, the director of the critically acclaimed Scheherazade Tell Me a Story and the four-and-halfhour epic The Gate of the Sun about the Palestinian struggle, spent the days and nights with his friends in the Tahrir Square until January 28 when criminals freed from prisons began to ravage Cairo neighbourhoods.
"From then until February 11 when Mubarak stepped down, we would go to Tahrir Square during the day and guard our neighbourhoods in the night, " recalls Nasrallah, who met during those nights people from the neighbourhood he had never talked to before. "It was a completely different revolution for me, " he adds. Like Nasrallah, it was a revealing period for many Egyptians. Thanks to Tamantashar Yom (18 Days), a multi-film canvas of the experiences from the revolution, the world can now listen to the stories straight from the protagonists. The story of the making of 18 Days is like a film within a film. Ten short films of 10-12 minutes each form the two-hour-long movie, which is part of the official selection at the 64th Cannes Film Festival. The film was a spontaneous idea that emerged from the artists, who had participated in the protests at the Tahrir Square, shortly after the end of the revolution. The production took off just like the anti-Mubarak protests did with Nasrallah and another famous Egyptian filmmaker, Marwan Hamed, taking the lead. The two promptly roped in eight other fellow filmmakers. There was no budget, no script and no permission to shoot the film. "Everybody, including directors, actors and technicians, worked for free, " says the film's executive producer Fadi Fahim. The initial plan was to make 10 short films on the revolution, spanning the 18 days from January 25 to February 11, and post them on the YouTube. But when the shooting was going on, Nasrallah received a call from Cannes festival. Two months later, Egypt became a guest country at the festival with 18 Days becoming the spearhead. Every short film in '18 Days' has a different story to tell.
Nasrallah's contribution, Interior/Exterior, is about a couple heading for break-up when the husband prevents the wife from joining the protests at the Tahrir Square. The film, however, has a happy ending when the man joins the protests and his wife. "Interior/Exterior is part fiction and part real life, " says Mona Zakki, a well-known Egyptian actor, who played the role of the wife. "It meant a lot to you when you were down at the Tahrir Square. You could breathe freedom, " says Zakki. "It was overwhelming because we had been suppressed for 35 years. At the Tahrir Square you got your power from the people around you. Everybody was giving power to each other. " 19-19 by Marwan Hamed narrates the arrest of a key revolutionary on the eve of January 25. Revolution Cookies by Khaled Marei is about a man, who wakes up from a coma in the middle of the revolution while Window by Ahmad Abdallah tells the story of a young man who gains courage from the events to reveal his love (at the Tahrir Square in front of a tank) to a girl next door. Raised fists and gritty slogans fill the screens throughout the film. In one scene, a protester shouts that the Mubarak regime had taken away "only our net, not our wit". The filmmakers relied on raw footage they shot during the protests without knowing then where the revolution was headed or that the images would one day chronicle history in the making. Another image that keep coming back is the announcement of a grumpy looking vice-president Oman Suleiman on February 11 on television that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down, a day and the words Egyptians will never forget. The film, which the cast and crew dedicated to the martyrs of the revolution at the Cannes premiere, received a standing ovation.
18 Days took nine weeks to film with another three weeks of post-production. The crew had to make several technical changes in the film after the news of the Cannes selection came. None of the studios, which did the post-production, charged any money. The money, however, is in sight now with the Cannes platform offering business opportunities. All of it will go to an NGO formed by the filmmakers after they completed the film. "The money will be used to fight illiteracy and raise political consciousness in Egyptian villages, " says Nasrallah. It is an effort his mother would gladly approve of.
Ten directors, 20 actors, six script writers, eight cinematographers, eight sound engineers, five set designers, three costume designers, seven editors and three post-production companies shot 10 short films with no budget about the January 25 revolution in Egypt
THE SHORT FILMS:
'Retention' by Sherif Arafa
'God's Creation' by Kamla Abu Zikry
'19-19 ' by Marwan Hamed
'When the Flood Hits You...' by Mohamed Ali
'Curfew' by Sherif El Bendari
'Revolution Cookies' by Khaled Marei
'#Tahrir 2/2' by Mariam Abou Ouf
'Window' by Ahmad Abdallah
'Interior/Exterior' by Yousry Nasrallah
'Ashraf Seberto' by Ahmad Alaa
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