Ibrahim Batout’s new film to premiere in Venice

"Winter of Discontent," Ibrahim Batout's latest film, will have its exclusive world premiere in this year's Venice International Film Festival. The feature film, which follows an activist, a journalist and a state security officer — Amr Waked, Farah Youssef and Salah al-Hanafy, respectively — as their lives change during the first 18 days of the revolution, will compete at the festival's Orizzonti Section, announced Batout at a press conference held on Thursday at the Falaki Theater.

This new film is different from Batout's 2007 "Ein Shams," or "Hawi," produced in 2010, in terms of its relatively large budget (LE5 million) and production mode. Hopefully, it will also be different from many of the revolution-themed films seen over the past year and a half that simply ended with people celebrating Mubarak stepping down. Waked promises that "Winter of Discontent" would be different.

"Whereas the revolution does act as a backdrop to the events, the film is not about that," Waked says, but rather about the changes in the lives of the three main characters. In fact, most of the film's events take place in 2009 following the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, he explains.

"Winter of Discontent" began as a project on 10 February 2011. Batout had just returned to Egypt, and called up Waked, asking him if he would join him in responding somehow to what was happening. "I wanted to make something," says Batout, "but I was not sure what it was." Waked showed up two hours later at Tahrir Square with a complete crew. Youssef was at the square as well. They began filming based on a vague idea that was still forming in Batout's head. 

Mubarak stepped down the next day. The crew stopped filming as the filmmakers asked themselves, now what? 

For two months, Batout sat and worked on developing a screenplay, building it up bit by bit and fleshing out the three main characters. Then the filming resumed. Each character would take up their role and, with the help of Batout, develop their own lines. That experience was highly rewarding for the cast, Waked notes.

What was also very rewarding was the smooth cooperation that happened between the four Egyptian production companies: Ein Shams Films, ZAD Communications and Production LLC, Aroma Film Labs and Material House Film Production Egypt. On the first day of filming in February, the team only had LE500,000, says Waked, "Yet we were able to quickly gain support for the project." He sees this as a promising experiment in the local film production scene. "You rarely find four different companies working on the same film, each complementing the other to make it work."

The main challenge now is distribution and reaching a local audience. With that, the team knows it has to be creative. "If we screen it through the normally available channels, we'll be killing the film before it sees the light," says Waked, citing how non-commercial films or those that are a bit experimental are usually alloted five to 20 screens across the country for limited runs of only a few weeks, and are typically screened at non-prime times.

The group of production companies is now experimenting with different distribution models for "Winter of Discontent" and other films. They are working with banks, for instance, on opening up movie theaters in less privileged and populous neighborhoods around Egypt, which would be run and operated exclusively by the group. They hope these new theaters would feature mostly non-commercial films.

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