Huge Egyptian director Mohammed Khan on his gritty new drama
Benita Adesuyan speaks to the film’s lauded Egyptian director Mohammed Khan ahead of its UAE release.
The first screening of Factory Girl (Fatat El Masnaa), happened at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival. Since then, the moving story of Hiyam, a young factory worker who lives in a poor neighbourhood, has gone on to receive a positive reaction wherever it’s been screened and to add to that momentum, it is now enjoying a general release across the UAE.
The film stars Yasmeen Raeis an actress that’s been touted as the Jennifer Lawrence of Arabic cinema, and Hany Adel, who plays the factory supervisor with whom Hiyam falls in love. The film deals with issues of equality, class prejudice and has a touch of love and romance, But how will it be received in Dubai? Time Out spoke to the film’s director, Mohammed Khan.
How do you feel about the film’s release in the UAE? It makes me very glad. The film won the best actress award [for Yasmeen Raeis] at the Dubai Film Festival, so it’s only right that it should be shown in the Emirates.
What was your inspiration for the movie? It’s about a girl who works in a factory. The film originated from my wish to make a film about a girl from a poor section of society who overcomes pressures from home and elsewhere. At the same time it’s a love story that doesn’t work because of prejudices or class distinction. It shows how she is strong enough to go on.
Why do you feel that this is a story that needs to be told now? As a filmmaker you want to make films about characters and I’ve always been interested in people that are struggling in life. We in Egypt are going through changes and struggling to have equality and decent rights so it’s appropriate to make a film about people who are trying to overcome adversity.
Talking of equality, your wife Wessam Soliman wrote the script, so I guess she shares the success with you – what was it like working with her? It’s easy! This is our third collaboration and she’s a feminist so it’s not the first time I’ve taken on these issues – with my wife or without her. She went into a great deal of detail with this script. When I suggested the theme, she didn’t know much about the world of these girls, and I found a friend who knows someone that owns a factory so we arranged she would go and work there incognito. Wessam did that for a week so that she could get a sense of the dialogue and how they think.
Many of your films have a feminist undertone or a female protagonist, why is that? First, I love women! Otherwise I wouldn’t make films about them. And I think in general it’s a man’s world, and however women think they have got equality, unfortunately they don’t – because it’s men that make the rules. It’s men who govern in a real sense and I don’t feel that’s right.
You’re considered to be one of the best Egyptian directors – do you still feel pressure when you release a new film? Of course. The film has had a good reaction from ordinary people – it’s going to be shown in Egypt soon and my heart can’t stop beating. Even if I have 100 films, I still get the same feeling.
Do you read reviews and how do you deal with criticism? Yes I read them, for and against. I reserve my own opinion and I don’t answer back. If someone doesn’t like the movie, then they’re right.
Mohamed Samir produced the film and he was relatively unknown at the time. How did you meet and what made you trust him with your film? I got to know Samir through my wife, and I always rely on my own instincts. I liked him as a person, he’s very ambitious and since I had my first fund from the Ministry of Culture, we had something to start with. The real achievement of this film is that it was made when neither he nor I had money. Samir worked really hard at that and I’m glad that he’s establishing himself as a producer.
What was the biggest challenge making this film? This is my 23rd film and I’d never made a film based on funds before. I was used to production companies, this was a different system. It was a hard film for me to make. It was filmed on a long stretch – it took a year from day one to the film being released. It was frustrating at times but now it’s done, we can celebrate.
How do you feel about the future of Arab film? I’m greatly optimistic. With Egyptian cinema, even though we are going through a period where mainstream cinema is only showing comedies, independent film is coming in, and in local festivals such as the Film Society Festival the winners are all from independent productions. Factory Girl is out now in cinemas across Dubai.