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Berlinale Spotlight World Cinema Fund film series: Tamer El Said in conversation with Kamar Ahmad Simon

  • Published at 02:51 pm February 26th, 2021
In the Last Days of the City
Khalid Abdalla in a scene from 'In the Last Days of the City'

'You don’t know the world better than your audience'

This discourse is the first edition of ‘Berlinale Spotlight World Cinema Fund (WCF) Film Series’ organized by Goethe Institute Bangladesh in partnership with its counterparts in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The films of the series are curated by Vincenzo Bungo from WCF and Sara Afreen, producer and filmmaker from Bangladesh, who has picked 4 films from around 200 WCF awarded projects. Acclaimed Bangladeshi filmmaker Kamar Ahmad Simon, who received WCF for his upcoming film ‘Shikolbaha’ (Iron Stream) spoke to ‘Egyptian Filmmaker Tamer El Said about his film 'Akher Ayam El Madina’ (In the Last Days of the City).

The second film in the series, 'Pendular', a film by Brazilian director Julia Murat, is streaming from Friday, February 26, 2021 at 3:00pm and is available for viewers until Saturday, February 27, 2021 at 3:00pm.

KAMAR AHMAD SIMON: I prefer not to say anything about the film if that is okay with you TAMER, not because the film is banned in Egypt and you are in a legal battle at the moment to release the film. But, because I believe it is the audience's right to discover a film as freshly as the maker has delivered. Hope you agree.

I was reading your interviews. I'm quoting a line like “Tamer El said, director of ‘In the Last Days of the City’ is a filmmaker living between Berlin and Cairo where he was born in 1972.” And in another note from another interview you gave in filmcommon.com probably, it says like “In the Last Days of the City - is a love letter to those who don't yet have their lives figured out.”

So I wanted to start this discussion from here like how do you relate to that? Have you figured it out yourself like can you please elaborate a little more about the context? You started to make the film between Cairo and Berlin…

Tamer Al Said

TAMER EL SAID: First of all I believe that, you know every film has so many readings and different readings and I always say like  what the filmmaker is saying about his film is not really the film... like, we cannot just rely on what the filmmaker is saying. Because, you know I believe that the real film is not the film I make. The real film is the thing that people watch and they are different. Because, what the film I make I think always, it's always with every filmmaker. When you make a film, a big part of it stays in your head. You don't put it on screen and when you watch the film you think that you have linked things to what's inside your head.

And you kind of complete the pictures. And the picture links the dots together, but actually the audiences are the only one who can say what the film is about. You know, so I believe like that. What people say about my film is maybe more true than what I say. So, I just can share my opinion but you know in the end if people can read the film in a way or another, I always agree. Because you know this is the film they watch. This is one.

Two and this is also very important in this context, you know one time I was doing an interview and then I remember that question very well when the journalist asked me like he said, ‘Do you think that your film could unify the people?’ Like can people agree on the film and I said, “You know I don't wish people are unifying in relation to my film. I believe that I'm looking for more of a kind of mutual relationship with the audience. Like eye to eye level like in the same balance. So, in a way I feel, I project the film to the audience but everyone in the audience is projecting his life in the film...”

So yes, in a way I see, sometimes I look at the film now while my life has completely changed. And I look from this position and I see it completely different. So, of course. Yes, I see what you mean.

KAMAR: Now there's a very interesting way to put it like in the first part where you are saying that every audience have their own film they project their their own film to their screen and that reminded me of like, with the poetry and your film reminds of poetry so much in terms of visual... not in terms of only visual poetry but also in terms of the way you approach the narrative and the way you played with the lines of the narrative the way we do things when we are writing. But, as I believed you were born in 1972 and you started the shooting at the age 37 in the beginning of 2009, if I'm not wrong. With probably less than 15% of the budget as you said somewhere and you started without a script. But you had a structure in your mind and as I read that you prepared for 2 years and planned for like 3 months of shooting. But ended up with 250 hours of rush in 2 years. 

So reading that, this sounded so familiar. This is something I identically experienced with my film ‘Are You Listening!’ (Shunte Ki Pao!). Like, I mean I exactly started in 2009 without a script but an idea structure. And I also planned for 3 months shooting and ended up in 2 years not 250 but 200 hours of rush.

But, I mean what do you think? Like why as you see this film in the last 10 years shaped you who you are and until the film was finished you were in Cairo and now you have a completely different look at the film. So what do you think? Why do the kind of experience we are going through around the world like you me when most of the audience are living under the gigantic shadows of Hollywood blockbusters or nowadays Netflix? Why do you think, we are making films or like spending a decade of our lives on a film and transforming ourselves? What is your take?

Tamer El Said in conversation with Kamar Ahmad Simon

TAMER: Yeah... I think it's a very important question. Like you know, as I said I was working on this film for a decade. And for this decade, everyday when I woke up, the first thing that came to my mind was that I should quit. Why do I do this to myself? Then you know, for me... I believe cinema is a way of engaging with life. It's a way to learn and to grow and to understand things and to understand the reality around me and to understand myself also. So, for me making a film is… You know, I don't feel that… I don't put myself in a position of feeling that I have something that I want to give it to the others. I'm looking for a more mutual relationship as I said I'm not interested in educating people about their lives because who I am to tell people about life. I can only share my questions.

For me the film is a research. It's an ongoing research about the reality around me. It's as I said a way to engage with life. It's a way to raise my questions. I have a curiosity, I have a passion, I have things that provoke me and by making a film I understand these things. I understand myself and I move to other questions. You know, you never get an answer, you move to other questions. It's a journey and through this journey you grow and you… become closer to the person that you want to be and I always say these things sometimes when I teach or something I say this to my students. Like, you always remember that you do the thing for yourself. You don't do it to anyone.

You don't owe it to the world and the world can continue without my film and without your film and without anything. There is no film that is going to change the world. But fame can change us and making a film is agony! It's not a picnic. It's a journey. It's a very tough journey full of loneliness, full of questions, full of doubts and it's really an ‘Agony’! And I always say this regardless, even if you have money if you have big companies, it's always the same!

So I always say, never make a film unless the agony of not making it is bigger than the agony of making it. Because, otherwise why would you do it?

The full version is available in this link: https://fb.watch/3tMex501v0/

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