As a director of independent, short and documentary movies and winner of the Saad Nadim prize for documentary films from the National Film Festival 2009, Dina Hamza has worked on various feature films to build experience. She worked as an assistant director on Youssri Nasrallah’s film Ehki ya Shahrazad (2009), Khaled Youssef’s Wiga (2006) and Heina Maysara (2007), and is currently on a sitcom directed by Kamla Abu Zekri.
“In television I learned how to work with three cameras on one set, which is not easy,” she said.
She said the responsibility of découpage (dividing each scene into several shots from different angles), as well as learning how to lead and control a group of actors, contributed to her budding career. “I have learned a lot from Yousri Nasrallah,” she said.
Nasrallah’s meticulous nature showed Hamza how to address actors to reveal unwritten histories of their characters without telling them how to act. She said this allows actors to realistically convey the idea with their own tools and acting skills.
“The way he balances between art and production costs and how to find solutions and create alternatives,” she adds.
Though a graduate of the faculty of arts in English in 2001, Hamza always had a passion for directing. Since 2001 she has been working as assistant director on national television, audited at the high cinema institute and attended various workshops at the Art Critique Institute when she directed her first short feature film titled Makhala (Kohl Container) in 2004.
In 2006 she joined a six-month workshop on documentary films held in Jordan and was taught by prominent Syrian documentary director Omar Ameralai. There she created her first documentary, entitled Roeia, or ‘Vision’. The film featured Al Sheikha Sabbah, a visually challenged, female Sufi singer who used to sing on radio.
One year later, Hamza directed and co-produced her second documentary, Aswat, or ‘Voices,’ in which she traced the artistic heritage of pillars of colloquial poetry Salah Jaheen and Fouad Haddad and how the artistic members of their families are continuing in the same line of thought. This documentary earned her the Saad Nadim prize at the Cairo Film Festival in 2009.
Bas fi haga naasa, or ‘Yet There Is Something Missing,’ is Hamza’s latest documentary. A joint project between Goethe Institute in Cairo and Medienproject Wuppertal, the film was co-directed by four young directors including Hamza. The film depicts the lives of four young people from Egypt and Germany and features how similar they are, despite the thousand of miles separating them.
Throughout her films, Hamza depicts characters rather than concepts. The unique air of tranquility in which her characters subtly reveal their socioeconomic and political perspective is a real treat.
“I used to deviate from documentaries fearing that people would be bored because most of them are quite informative, until I saw Mohammed Mallas’s documentary Manam (‘A dream’),” recalled Hamza.
She believes that her generation deviated from documenting causes or ideas; they preferred to portray people that would lead to a topic.
“I think that it’s very important to work in documentaries because it bans any preconceptions, puts you in direct contact with real people, which opens up a window of opportunity for different and richer topics,” she said.
She said that new satellite channels are buying royalties and broadcasting new documentaries is a major step, in addition to cultural centers and festivals that host such films. However, Hamza referred to the marketing and lack of movie theaters to feature the genre. The want of audiences prevents documentaries from taking off, she said.
“Most people like to watch feature films and refrain from the problems that they are already aware of through numerous television shows and endless news programs that show events the moment they happen,” she said.
But this is not the case worldwide. Hamza remembers how the annual documentary film festival in Copenhagen dedicated several movie theatres to documentary films.
“The theatres were crowded and people came and paid a ticket to watch,” she noted. “Something that you do not find here.”
Yet Hamza is optimistic, recalling that the Mobile film festival in Cairo was sponsored by Good News Cinema. She believes that perhaps sponsoring a documentary film festival is an option.
Hamza’s upcoming projects are a short feature film, an adaptation of one of German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s plays and a documentary about the life of Ashmawi, who executes death sentences.