Portmanteau pic “18 Days” is an instant response to the 2011 Egyptian revolution by a collective of 10 rising and established filmmakers. Certain to be superseded by more considered works in the coming years, it retains value thanks to several strong entries tied together in an inevitably uneven package. Useful both as a showcase for the region’s emerging talent and as a raw reaction to recent political events, the shorts are standalone works linked by the 18-day revolution. Cannes inclusion created a buzz that should pay off for fests and ancillary.
With media attention still strong on Egyptian events, and given the slowly growing visibility of Arab helmers on the fest circuit, “18 Days” is a handy calling card, though industry viewers should be careful not to judge the talent purely based on shorts conceived and produced at an emotional highpoint in just a couple of months. The participants worked gratis, and all proceeds will go to funding social outreach in Egyptian villages.
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Things kick off with the weakest entry, vet helmer Sherif Arafa’s “Retention.” Playing like a provincial agitprop stage piece, the short brings together a diverse group of men in a mental institution just before and during the revolution. Far better is “God’s Creation” from Kamla Abou Zekry (“One-Zero”), which follows a religious young woman (Nahed El Sebai) from the slums who finds herself drawn in by the street protests. The helmer never quite manages to smoothly integrate poor-quality amateur news footage with the action, but the story is strong and the handheld lensing has an appropriately urgent feel.
A tech guy (Amr Waked) is arrested and tortured by out-of-touch interrogators just before the street protests begin in “19-19,” directed by Marwan Hamed (“The Yacoubian Building”). Mohamed Ali’s “When the Flood Rises” works in a more jocular vein, as a couple of opportunists become accidental supporters of the revolution. Shorts helmer Sherif Bendary confirms his promise with “Curfew,” in which a chatty grandfather (Ahmed Fouad Selim) in Suez gets stuck between roadblocks as he tries to get his grandson home from the hospital.
Khaled Marei’s “Revolution Cookies” features comic thesp Ahmed Helmy (also scripting) as a tailor unaware of the brewing unrest who thinks Cairo is under Israeli invasion and locks himself into his shop for the full 18 days. Star Hend Sabry plays a pregnant slum-dweller whose husband (Asser Yasin) is hired as one of Mubarak’s thugs in the ambitious “#tahrir 2/2,” from young-helmer-to-watch Mariam Abou Ouf.
Ahmad Abdallah (“Microphone”) chooses a lyrical style for one of the compendium’s strongest entries, “Window,” a beautifully contained story about a young man (Ahmed El Fishawy) who barely leaves his tiny apartment, watching the revolution unfold via Facebook and the Internet. “Interior/Exterior,” from noted director Yousry Nasrallah, casts Mona Zakki as a woman discovering her political voice through the encouragement of a friend (Yousra), and despite the fears of her husband (Yasin). Final entry is Ahmed Alaa’s “Ashraf Seberto,” in which a barber (Mohamed Farrag) turns his shop into a first aide station for wounded protestors.
Issues touched on throughout the pic include poverty, corruption and the sense of pride, unity and hope that’s become one of the most thrilling outcomes of the revolution. Visuals run the gamut from shaky naturalistic handheld to more rigorously controlled and theatrical lensing; many of the shorts will probably looking best on smallscreens. Sound is generally problem-free.