Dubai: Arab World Women Directors – Hala Elkoussy

A profile of Elkoussy, whose “Cactus Flower” has just won best actress for Menha El Batroui at the Dubai Intl. Film Festival

After a personal artistic practice centered on photographic installations and video, Cairo-born, London-trained artist Hala Elkoussy explores the border area between the visual arts and film in her feature debut, “Cactus Flower,” which has just won best actress for Menha El Batroui’s performance at the 2017 Dubai Festival.

This independently made, alternative cinema selection, which world premiered in the Rotterdam Film Festival’s Bright Future section earlier this year, differs from the other films in the Dubai Festival Muhr competition on a visual and structural level.

Elkoussy notes that her move into features was not easy. She says, “Particularly challenging were issues related to the size of the production. It is the biggest thing I’ve done so far.” She worked seven days a week for over nine months, handling the direction, art direction and many production issues. “What made things easier,” she says, “were the key members of my team, most of whom I have worked with before on smaller projects, and the feeling of camaraderie between us.”

Many years in the making, “Cactus Flower” was probably the first Egyptian feature to launch an Indiegogo campaign for financing. Elkoussy says, “What is special about the campaign is that it did not only run on Indiegogo, given that Egypt is not really a big online credit card country. We ran a parallel campaign on Facebook and through personal connections.  What was also particular is that besides the usual small perks, I was offering my own artwork for sale. I tried to capitalize on my name as an artist.”

The social media campaigns wound up attracting 70 backers who contributed a total of $12,000. The in-kind contributions, however, were more substantial in value. Elkoussy says, “We were backed by Ismailia for real estate for most of the locations and by private individuals and entities for the remaining locations. And some actors provided work for free.”

Elkoussy is currently working on a script for a new feature with a dystopian edge, titled “East of Noon.” She will start raising the financing for it in 2018.

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