In his feature film debut, “The Settlement,” writer-director Mohamed Rashad tackles the timely issue of labor abuses in Egypt, a subject that is close to his heart.
Inspired by a true story, the film, set in Alexandria, follows two brothers, the 23-year-old troublemaker Hossam and 12-year-old Maro, who are hired at a blade factory as “compensation” for the accidental death of their father. Aware of the hostile young man’s bad reputation, the factory workers expect him to take revenge on Moustafa, the man responsible for their father’s death, with whom the brothers are forced to work.
An Egyptian-French co-production between Cairo-based independent collective Hassala Films and Caracteres Productions in Paris, “The Settlement” is among eight projects selected earlier this year as part of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and the Netherlands Film Festival’s BoostNL film development program. The film has also received support from the IFFR’s Hubert Bals Fund Script and Development initiative.
Rashad, a co-founder of Hassala Films, says he was inspired to make “The Settlement” after meeting a law school graduate whose father had fallen to his death at a construction site. Despite a lack of safety standards, the construction company pressured the worker’s family to waive their rights and not take legal action in return for giving the son a job in its legal department, something they ultimately agreed to in view of the scarcity of career options the young man faced.
Noting the long hours his own father spent working in textile factories for more than 40 years, Rashad, a native of Alexandria, says he has been close to workers’ stories all his life. “I relate with how the workers earn their living through patience, even if the heavy machinery literally eats their flesh.”
The young man’s story led Rashad to research the issue more deeply. “I learned from workers and engineers in different factories that the young man’s story is not an exception. There is indeed a high injury and mortality rate among workers in the factories. And the management usually uses money and hiring family members in their negotiations with the affected families. That’s how I realized that the story of the injured and dead workers has to be told through cinema.”
“The Settlement” follows Rashad’s 2016 documentary “Little Eagles,” which explores 1970s leftist activism in Egypt and the filmmaker’s own family history.
Hassala Films has two other feature films in development, Nadine Salib’s “The Land Beyond,” the story of exiled people in an isolated land trying to create a new community by erasing their past; and Abdallah Al-ghaly’s “Once Upon a Time in Tripoli,” about three friends who are dragged into the violence permeating Libya’s dystopian and war-ravaged capital.
The company is also developing Mohammed Moustapha’s feature documentary “Big Boys Don’t Cry,” which intertwines the observations of the filmmaker with the portrait of a tough, iron-pumping bodyguard who hides his vulnerability behind his masculine identity.