ABU DHABI// Fawzi Saleh was put in the uncomfortable position of defending his debut documentary about child labour in Cairo, Living Skin, following its screening at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
The gritty and heartbreaking documentary focuses on eight young boys, aged 11 and up, who live in the tannery slums of the Egyptian capital and work to support their families. The boys risk their lives on a daily basis to work with acid and other hazardous chemicals.
"I never said that this is Egypt," he said firmly, when an audience member verbally attacked him for displaying a lack of nationalism by producing a film that casts Egypt in a negative light. "I am not here to ruin the reputation of my country, but at the same time I am not trying to create an advertisement for tourism. Filmmakers need to defend our society by any means." There are laws in Egypt that aim to combat the issue of child labour, but Mr Saleh does not believe they make much difference. Unicef estimates at least a million underage children are forced to work during various seasons in the country.
It took Mr Saleh six months to prepare for the project and being friends with some residents in the area made things a little easier. He considered the stories of 45 different children before deciding on the final eight.
Each had a unique story and an easy manner with the camera, which - from an artistic perspective - was a crucial element.
"More than 50 per cent of the Egyptian population is currently living below the poverty line," said Mr Saleh. "And while politicians speak on TV and in newspapers, it is filmmakers that have been given this unique platform to bring to surface such situations."
Judy Taylor, from Scotland, said the documentary was beautifully shot: "This will not discourage me from going to Egypt, it makes me want to go there even more. "
Another audience member, Roz Joans, from the UK, said behind the sad story was warmth and friendship.
"The director portrayed the boys as more grown-up than they are. I admire they work under such conditions to support family and feel no shame," said Mrs Joans. "I have been to Egypt before and a city with such a rich history should not have a situation like this - but it is not just happening in Egypt."