Yousry Nasrallah (pictured) is among Egypt’s most highly regarded filmmakers, known for depicting his country’s social and political complexities in multi-layered movies such as “Gate of the Sun” (2004), “Aquarium” (2008) and “After the Battle” (2012), a meditation on the Tahrir Square revolution.
Zeineb, who despite her young age is already engaged to an older man, escapes from her village in Upper Egypt with Noah, her 16-year-old Christian neighbor, embarking on a road trip in which they both confront many of the myths and fears they believed were true. The project is being unveiled at the Cairo Film Festival’s Cairo Film Connection co-production platform.
“What interested me most about this project is the discovery that these two kids make when they realize that it’s not the mythical monsters and scary things that terrify them,” Nasrallah tells Variety. Instead, the youths understand “that the real monsters are the ones who tell these tales: the families that propagate these stories.”
The tale, which early on turns into a road trip, unfolds in rural Egypt, during a foggy and rainy Easter week. “We have these two kids who embark on a journey that lasts for a day and a night in fog and floods and extremely hostile weather conditions,” says Nasrallah, adding that the film “is very challenging formally” and also that “the beauty of the story is they see the world despite the fog.” The director notes that in all his films “there is always a journey of discovery.”
Nasrallah was drawn to the “universality, lyricism, humanity and humor” of the screenplay, written by young Egyptian writer/director Ahmed El Zoghby, who collaborated on Mohamed Diab’s 2016 drama “Clash” that made a splash at Cannes. El Zoghby is also co-founder of a Cairo film school called Cima.
“The Legend of Zeineb and Noah” is being lead-produced by another young rising Egyptian multihyphenate, Ali El Arabi, a documentary director and producer based in Cairo. El Arabi helmed upcoming doc “Captains of Za’atari,” about a refugee camp in Jordan where two Syrian friends get a shot at fulfilling their dream of becoming professional soccer players.
El Arabi in 2015 founded Ambient Light, a Cairo-based production company focused on social topics such as refugee displacement and women’s and children’s rights.
Nasrallah said casting is still being decided, but top Egyptian talents such as superstar Bassem Samra, who starred in “After the Battle” and also in the director’s most recent film “Brooks, Meadows, and Lovely Faces,” are already informally on board. The search is on to find the two young leads. Talks are also underway with French producers Georges-Marc Benamou and Jérôme Clément, who were part of the “After the Battle” production team to come on board, alongside El Arabi’s Ambient Light. The plan is to start shooting “The Legend of Zeineb and Noah” in November 2021.