“Let’s Talk,” which interweaves a treasure trove of archive material with cinematic conversations between four women from different generations in the family of late great Egyptian master Youssef Chahine, is a quintessentially personal project for director Marianne Khoury.
Chahine, who was Arab cinema’s leading light for over half a century, was her uncle. It’s a family in which life and movies are closely intertwined.
Which is why Khoury in making this doc – that is world premiering in competition at IDFA and segueing rapidly to a plum competition slot at the Cairo Film Festival – insisted that she produce it herself through Misr International Films, the storied Cairo-based production company that her family has been running for over half a century.
Khoury, who besides being a director is also a producer and a writer, spent years gathering material for this unique project being sold internationally by France’s Pyramide Films.
“Chahine” gave her tapes that he had recorded with his own mother before shooting “Alexandria…Why,” the autobiographical drama about his youth in Cairo. “He told me: ‘this is for you!’ He knew that one day I would use them,” Khoury recalls.
Over time she assembled materials largely from family archives. Besides tapes recorded by Chahine, they comprise sound recordings and photos, as well as videos of her mother, her grandmother and her uncle.
But for a long spell Khoury wasn’t ready to take the plunge. It wasn’t until after her third documentary, “Shadows,” about personal and social perceptions of the mentally ill, which went to Venice in 2010, that she felt “emotionally more ready.”
The trigger was her daughter, Sara, during a time when she was in Paris on break from her film studies in Cuba.
“I wanted her to learn about the family legacy…she is an important part of the whole process,” says Khoury,” who adds: “For both of us, doing the film kind of liberated us from a lot of things.”
So Khoury chose a narrative that takes its cue from archival footage which she interspersed with, as the doc’s core, a conversation with her daughter “about life, death, identity, cinema, our dreams and love.”
“We confront secrets and pains, and through some existential and emotional questions we delve into the history of our family, our identity and our geographic roots.”