While it may seem a bit odd that the artistic director of the El Gouna Film Festival is world premiering his new film, “Curfew,” at the Cairo International Film Festival, the director in question Amir Ramses says it makes perfect sense. “There was no way I would consider El Gouna for my film because it’s a direct conflict of interest,” he says. “I have a strong bond with Cairo Film Festival, and I don’t consider that we are competing with each other; one way or another we are completing Cairo and Cairo is completing us.”
Ramses has been artist director at El Gouna since its inception in 2017, and this is the first time he has helmed a movie since then. Early in his career, Ramses was prolific, making a handful of films in quick succession. His documentary, “Jews of Egypt,” and ensemble narrative, “Cairo Time,” were invited to festivals around the world. Invited onto many film festival juries, his reputation as a cinephile caught the notice of the El Gouna Film Festival founders.
The downside is that the dual roles slowed down his directing output, but he has returned with a film that is likely to open up a debate about how families cope with pedophilia in Egypt. As he proved with “Jews of Egypt,” Ramses is a director who is not afraid to take on subjects considered taboo by many in his homeland.
“It [pedophilia] was the launching point for the film,” says Ramses. “The year-and-a-half before the film I followed lots of incidents in the news. It was always shocking to me that it was rarely a one-time thing within the families. There were even incidences that saw young girls getting murdered after falling pregnant. What really made me panic and fostered my interest in the subject is not the incident itself because it happens, it’s a crime, but the silence around it. The fact that it can go on for years within a family.”
He began researching the subject and reading anonymous testimonies about their traumas. He was startled to learn, “There are people up until their 20s and 30s who remember nothing about being abused and then it comes back to them. I wanted to tell a story about the silence, where everybody knows apart from the victim.”
“Curfew” stars legendary Egyptian actress Ilham Shaheen as Fatin. It takes place in 2013 on the day Fatin is released from prison. Her daughter, Layla (Amina Khalil) and her husband, Hassan (Ahmed Magdy), are there to pick her up, but it’s soon clear that all is not well between them. The tense atmosphere is accentuated by the curfew forcing Layla to accommodate her recently released mother for a night.
The timing of a film set in a curfew could not be any better, with so many people around the world experiencing lock-ins and lockdowns during 2020. In a way, Ramses wishes that he could have used the present day to tell the story. Although the film’s set during the 2013 curfew, the director says he chose this period because it was the nearest point in time that would make the film contemporary.
“I shot the film at the start of 2020, and right before the Berlin Film Festival I completed filming,” says Ramses. “Two weeks later, there was a real curfew happening when I could have set the film, and also shot it, avoiding the problems we had closing streets when filming.”
He also released a trailer very quickly, “There were comments in a newspaper and on social media about the curfew starting 10 days before and they’ve made a film about it already. I released the trailer to say, this film is pretty much in the can, it’s not about this curfew, but the one before.”
The film will get a cinema release in Egypt a few days after its world premiere in competition at the Cairo Film Festival. It’s also of note as it is the first movie be made under the OSN Originals banner, and will appear on the OSN platform next year. “They wanted the film to be their first original film, which required a certain deadline for it to be released theatrically. At a certain point, I thought ‘Curfew’ would not be ready in time for festivals and just be released directly. I didn’t mind that as these are weird times anyway.”
As it is, he’s happy the film will have a cinema release and be going to streaming so soon. “It will be on the channel and the OSN platform. Their digital platform has become more significant during the lockdown; they have had deals with HBO and Disney. I believe it will start on the channel at the beginning of next year. Let’s face it; this isn’t a big 3D IMAX film, nor an action film or a comedy, it’s a very tough film. In the region, I think it will be so shocking on so many levels because of the content, the storyline and the fact that we hate to talk about this subject publicly.”