Egyptian director’s split loyalties

Egyptian filmmaker Yussef Shahin is toying with a title for his latest film as he grapples with his anger at current US foreign policy and nostalgia for two golden bygone years spent in California.

Yussef Shahin is Egypt's most famous director
Yussef Shahin is Egypt's most famous director

“The film will be ready in November so I still have time to find a title,” the 76-year-old director, known to his friends as Joe, told AFP in his home, which also serves as an office and a bar in a dusty building on Cairo’s Champollion Street.

So far Shahin is trying to make up his mind whether to call his new film “Anger”, “Rage” or “Alexandria-New York” – in honour of his Mediterranean hometown and for the US city where he shot many of the scenes.

The idea for the film came following the upheaval after the deadly September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States masterminded by the Islamist al-Qaida network of Saudi-born Usama bin Ladin.

Shahin set out to express the lack of understanding, humiliation and the wrath of Arab populations who found themselves confronted by the co-called “crusade” of US leaders.

Autobiographical tales

“I fell in love (in California) … but (now) there is also the fury I feel against American politics”

Yussef Shahin

He wanted to showcase how “Arabs and terrorists were amalgamated” in the west after the attacks, discuss the US-led invasion of Afghanistan as part of a global war on “terrorism” and US support for Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.

But in the weeks following the carnage, Shahin, who was in and out of hospitals battling an excess of water on the lungs, also wanted to relive the passions of two years spent as a youth in the United States.

“I am still very attached to my professors who taught me filmmaking 60 years ago in California,” he said.

“I fell in love there during that time … but (now) there is also the fury I feel against American politics,” he said.

Shahin’s new film will be the fourth sequel to his autobiographical hit “Alexandria … Why?”, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1979 Berlin Festival one year after it came out.

The other two films, which were also inspired by his childhood and his adolescence, were entitled “Alexandria again and again” and “An Egyptian Story”.


The characters in his new movie reflect the beauty of the happy times he spent in the United States where for two years (1946-7) he trained as an actor at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

Egyptian actress Yusra plays the role of Ginger – a woman he fell in love with during those years – and the film depicts her relationship with a young dancer from the Cairo opera, played by Ahmed Yehiya.

“I don’t like those who push the (Palestinian) kamikaze to blow themselves up and kill innocent Israelis”

Yussef Shahin

Shahin did not resist the temptation to have the youthful Yehiya portray him in the film.

“Ahmed is not only a dancer but a great actor,” said the director.

Shahin, who has asserted himself as a skilled technician from the start of his career as a film director in Egypt in 1950, said his new film is “one third fiction one third reality and one third what I would have liked to be”.

Films to his credit include classics such as “Central Station” (1958), “The Land” (1969) and “Destiny” (1997).

Biting criticism

He is also known to have discovered and launched the career of Omar Sharif, who made his debut in Shahin’s “Struggle in the Valley” in 1953 before shooting to stardom with “Doctor Zhivago”.

Following Egypt’s defeat by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Shahin’s films became increasingly political and social.

His contribution to a collective documentary shot after the September 11 attacks entitled “11 minutes, nine seconds, one image” triggered biting criticism from his detractors who said Shahin fuelled hatred.

But today the filmmaker is adopting a much more sober attitude, with words such as “tolerance” and “dialogue” at the centre of the vocabulary of a man who said two years ago in Paris “even I could become Hamas.”

Now his views concerning the Palestinian Islamist group blamed for numerous anti-Israeli attacks has changed.

“I don’t like those who push the (Palestinian) kamikaze to blow themselves up and kill innocent Israelis, he said.

Source : News Agencies

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