'The Yacoubian Building's' Marwan Hamed talks about 'The Blue Elephant,' which screens in competition at this week's Marrakech Fest
Egyptian-born Marwan Hamed burst onto the scene in 2006 with “The Yacoubian Building,” said to be the highest-budgeted film in the history of Egyptian cinema. Hamed earned praise for tackling contemporary Egyptian social issues in a film that also sold widely abroad and won awards at the Tribeca, Zurich and Montreal fests. Hamed is also known for his short films, music videos and television commercials, of which he has made more than 300. With “The Blue Elephant,” he hopes to replicate the success of his first feature-length effort.
What inspired you to make “The Blue Elephant”?
I read the novel in one day, and I thought it was amazing we do not do thrillers and fantasy films in Egypt and I love these genres so I thought this could be the one. I felt very sorry for the characters, especially Yehia Rahed, the main character. I always thought that the “The Blue Elephant” is about performance. I love working with actors and all the characters and their back-stories were really quite interesting. One of the things that grabbed me most was the other world in the film and the journeys that Yehia took.
How has your experience directing short films, commercials and music videos affected the style of your feature-length films?
Yes very much. I became much faster and my attention for details has increased a lot. I think when you shoot a lot you learn a lot, you get to try a lot of different things; some work and some don’t and here you start getting better.
Your film “The Yacoubian Building” was the highest-budgeted film in the history of Egyptian cinema. Did that have any impact on the way you executed “The Blue Elephant”?
The Blue Elephant is completely different to “The Yacoubian Building.” It’s a different genre and the style is very different. I like to travel from a film world to another. There is more to explore and it becomes more fun for me. The big budgets though put you against a lot of expectations and this is the stressful part in addition to the box office stress. But when I’m working I just focus to get it right and shoot the film that I want to shoot and then worry about the other things later.
Did you encounter any difficulties in adapting the film from Ahmed Mourad’s novel?
The novel was like a puzzle and it had an amazing film world. I thought it was ready to be turned to a script and that’s why I thought Ahmed is the best one to write it. There were two things that worried me: The first that the audience would loose track of the story; the length of the film. I was very scared of the length. All throughout the process we always put ourselves in the shoes of the audience.
The film deals with patients in a psychiatric hospital. What was important to you in portraying such a sensitive subject onscreen?
The world of 8 West in the psychiatric hospital was very interesting because we do not know whether they are patients or criminals acting like patients and the doctors role here was to determine the difference. So basically we are always in doubt and I think that this part was very interesting.