In a Long Interview with the Huffington Post
Mohamed Hefzy: We're Trying to Change the Perception that Independent Cinema Is Anti-public
Coinciding with his expanding activities in the global film market and international festivals, and being one of the most prominent Arab auteur, the Huffington Post singled out a long interview with the Egyptian Scriptwrier and Producer Mohamed Hefzy which is conducted by Film Writer E. Nina Rothe.
In her interview with Hefzy during the 10th Dubai International Film Festival in December, 2013, Rothe firstly referred to the great role played by his production house to develop the filmmaking industry in Egypt and its connections with the international industry.
Rothe also referred to the changes that the scene of the Egyptian cinema industry witnessed after the revolution and how many Egyptian films are influenced by it, so she asked Hefzy if such a change was really "a blessing or curse", to which he answered, "As a producer, I've been getting all kinds of projects thrown at me, and I think a lot of them have not been successful in involving the revolution, and those are obviously the ones I didn't do." He explained that he always looks for the motivation why this or that filmmaker tackles the revolution in his film; sometimes this motivation is either political or just a way to grab the attention. The best films are the ones that do not directly tackling the revolution, but the human stories that relates in way or another to the revolution.
One of these films is Ahmad Abdalla's Rags and Tatters starring Asser Yassin, which is described by Rothe as it deals "with the revolution, in a very hands-on kind of way, but told a completely different story that we may have never know about in the West." However, Hefzy took a conscious decision to exclude the revolution from his upcoming films; "I think we've said nearly everything that can be said at the moment, knowing what we know and not knowing what we don't. A film like Villa 69 was really fresh for me, a film that has nothing to do with the revolution. You don't even know if it happened before or after," he explained.
Concerning the picture motion industry in Egypt, Hefzy said "There is an industry, it's not very strong, there are three companies producing about 70% of the films, and I'm not talking about Film Clinic. I'm talking about companies that make films for local demand, like the summer movies, which I don't do as much of. I would like to make more of them, but not in the same way."
Although such films can be locally high grossing, they will be just flops if screened outside Egypt; he added that "it's not just because they're only relevant to our local urban culture but also because the quality has become so bad that I think it's going to take a long time to educate people cinematically and culturally." Hefzy believes that it has to do with a cultural movement itself, as we have to associate it with literature, theater, arts, general cultural awareness that has to grow, and return to what it was in the 60s and 70s when more people were cultured.
Hefzy also talked about the chances that independent films currently have in Egypt saying that "what I'm happy about is that we now have a chance to show more independent films where you get more brilliant, talented ideas and new directors who just don't have a place to show their films or don't have access to TV broadcasters and theaters. Now I also see all these initiatives that where independent films can get finances and exhibition space".
About Rags and Tatters, which is distributed and marketed by MAD Solutions, Hefzy said "Rags and Tatters was an example of an independent release that I think went well, because we screened it in seven theaters, for a limited period of time but it managed to get somehow into the mainstream media, it was written about in all newspapers and it was widely present in social media websites. Now there is a demand, a small niche market that wants to watch serious and different films. It's a small market but I think, at least we've proven that they exist. If you can make ten thousand admissions, maybe the next one will make twenty thousand admissions, or if you manage to get more screens and more time, maybe you can do even better."
Hefzy also added that the success of such a film encourages TV broadcasters to buy and show them; "We're trying to change that perception that independent cinema is anti-public, it's so unpopular that the public just doesn't want to see it," Hefzy stated.
Having premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, Rothe believes that Rags and Tatters bridged cultures; however Hefzy thinks it wasn't enough; even if the festival was a really good start, culture bringing requires wider platforms; "I think without distributors and exhibitors looking to give more space and more chances, and taking more chances on riskier films like that, I think that it's going to be limited to festival audiences... We need a wider audience. It also depends on the stories you tell, how you're telling them, and how distributors take risks for these films. A lot of distributors will only do that if they have subsidies from governments, to mitigate the risk. So there's a political responsibility, especially in the West for governments that, like in France, can give money to screen towards foreign films. That's why there are so many foreign films being released in France, so if other countries were to do the same, I think it would help. It is in the best interest of governments to bridge cultures!," Hefzy said.
Being able to balance between being a scriptwriter and a producer for more than 11 years now, Hefzy commented, "To be honest, time management is the key element that helped me and I'm really lucky to be surrounded with good people. Having a good team around me is always helpful. In Film Clinic, I have a good team, at Ismailia Film Festival I've managed to put together a nice group of people. I was also lucky to meet up with creative and smart dudes who know exactly what they want and I can confidently ask their help. It's all about setting a system that brings the best of everyone to make the best benefit of various projects". As a scriptwriter, Hefzy explained that he no more has time to write, although sometimes he really loves to. "It's at a cost, because I don't have a lot of time," he added.