Testing the Arab appetite for scary movies using found footage techniques and amateur actors, Hadi El Bagoury aims to push boundaries with his new film Warda. Interview by Benita Adesuyan.
Arabic movies are not best known for genre bending, but new Egyptian film, Warda is challenging this perception. Using the found footage style of shooting, director Hadi El Bagoury is tempting local movie fans with a diet of thrills and scares not often seen on screen. El Bagoury’s first film, Wahed Sahih, was screened at the Dubai International Film Festival two years ago. His second foray into feature film, Warda, tells the story of a video blogger who returns to his home in the Egyptian countryside to investigate strange happenings that have been disturbing his family since the death of his father. Rooted in the true story of a rural village in Egypt that was wracked with possessions, the film’s director talks to Time Out Dubai about his quest to find answers through the movie.
What attracted you to the story behind Warda?
I’ve always been intrigued by possession and never had a definite answer for it, only more questions. That made me research it, and the more I researched, the more I wanted to talk about it, so I thought why not make a film. But after I finished making the movie I came out with the same feeling that I’m still not convinced.
What kind of research did you do in order to make the film?
When you’re asking about a subject such as this in rural Egypt, people don’t like to talk about it. And it’s not because we’re coming with cameras or they don’t want to be filmed, it’s because they’re worried, scared to talk about it in case something like this happens to them. It was very hard.
Considering that people were afraid to discuss the subject with you, did you ever think that the film might not be successful?
I did, all the time, but if you have the elements that you need to make a good movie, I believe that even if it’s a risk, if it’s calculated well it can be done. We did something different to any other Egyptian film made in the region. We had a focus group when we finished it, because when you work on a film every day and edit it, changing little bits daily, you can lose sight of whether you’re going in the right direction. I come from an advertising background so the process of focus groups is something I’m familiar with.
Did you make any changes to the film based on the feedback from these focus groups?
Yes I did. I changed a bit of the end and deleted a couple of scenes from the beginning that I already had my doubts about.
What was the biggest challenge making this film?
There were many. With a film like this you have to set rules in order to make it right, to make the story more believable. I didn’t use any known actors so I had to find the right people. The other challenge was to actually research a topic that no one wanted to open up about. We knew the villagers spoke about it amongst themselves but in front of the camera, no one would open up. We had a hard time convincing many people.
How long did it take to make the film?
Not long. When you don’t have superstars there’s nothing else to do but shoot. It took about three weeks, but it had all the elements in place in order to meet the timescale – no superstars, minimal crew, and no one was to leave the location.
Was it difficult to direct amateur actors?
It’s always difficult to direct amateur actors, but if you scout out the right actors and take your time with them once you’ve found them, it’s not so bad. I didn’t find them and shoot the next day. I got them an acting coach and they trained for the roles and the characters, how to speak with the rural accent. They studied for this film for six months with the coach, so they really knew the characters, and I never start to shoot until we’re ready.
Do you think you will make another thriller?
Yes, I hope to do another. I don’t have a plan for what my next film will be, but I think I could do another horror movie. I hope that this one will make that change in people’s minds and will make people want to experience different genres and styles. I have a good feeling about the picture and the future of the genre in the Arabic film industry.
Warda is currently screening at Vox Cinemas Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi.