Last year Emam attended the Cannes Film Festival in a desperate attempt to secure finishing funds for “Yomeddine,” her first independent feature film. This year she will attend the same festival as the producer for that movie, which will get its world premiere in competition.
The movie’s Cannes berth is sweet vindication for Emam’s decision to pursue a more creative career path. Born in Egypt, Emam moved to New York as a baby and was working in TV production management when her parents had an accident in her native land, causing her to temporarily uproot her life.
“I lived in an Egyptian hospital for four months,” Emam says. “I went home wanting to tell stories about an Egypt I’d never seen.”
To learn the creative side of filmmaking, Emam pursued an MFA from Columbia University. While there, she met “Yomeddine” director A.B. Shawky, and began working with him to bring the leper drama to the big screen.
“It was just one of those stories that had to be told,” she says. “But it wasn’t something most people could visualize as a film back in 2014. We were told, ‘This is really weird. Nobody is going to watch it and therefore we aren’t going to fund you. So we started a Kickstarter campaign.”
Emam, who has served as a researcher on Hulu’s “The Looming Tower” and a ratings research analyst at MTV Networks, found the 32-day shoot in Egypt difficult. It took place over three months from late 2015 to early 2016.
“I’d never lived in Egypt and didn’t know how things like permitting worked,” she says. “But as a producer I think you should understand and be able to cover each and every [film] department no matter what country you’re in.”
She truly became a hands-on producer over the course of the shoot, when the production designer had to leave the project.
“I took over and found myself in the middle of the desert digging sand to re-create a graveyard,” she says.
Emam started dating Shawky during pre-production and got married after they finished it. “I said to him, ‘this was really hard,’” Emam says. “Marriage is going to be a piece of cake.”
Wild Bunch has taken international sales for the movie, and Le Pacte has acquired French distribution rights.
“Going forward,” Emam says, “I’m most interested in making films about cultures that are misunderstood.”
— Addie Morfoot
Inspirations: “400 Blows,” “Cairo Station” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”