x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Film about Egyptian revolution premieres at ADFF

Tales from the early days of Egypt's protests make regional debut.

ABU DHABI // A boy sits in a barber shop-turned-makeshift hospital in downtown Cairo receiving stitches for a head wound after violent protests in Egypt.

He rushes back to rejoin the crowds making history, fighting for a country free from police brutality, corruption and oppression.

He dies, along with hundreds in a revolution that ousted the former president Hosni Mubarak.

This is just one of many tragic stories captured in the powerful film 18 Days, which had its Middle East premiere last night at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Just before hitting the red carpet one of the film's directors, Yousry Nasrallah, said he hoped audiences would see it as a project "without an agenda".

Nasrallah is one of 10 directors documenting a series of events over the first days of protests, which left many missing and thousands injured. The others were Sherif Arafa, Kamla Abu Zikri, Marwan Hamed, Mohamed Ali, Sherif El Bendary, Khaled Marei, Mariam Abou Ouf, Ahmad Abdallah and Ahmed Alaa.

The 125-minute project encompasses 10 short films highlighting issues of "confinement" felt by Egyptians.

The Egyptian actresses Yousra and Hend Sabri appear in the film, and were also at the premiere.

Mrs Sabri said her role of a poor woman whose husband was seriously wounded in clashes was a challenge. "This was a very new character," she said. "It took a lot of courage to play her and to capture the pain of citizens."

The husband and wife duo Mona Zaki and Ahmed Helmi also played parts in the film and in demonstrations.

Nasrallah said: "Protests are no picnic. I was in Tahrir Square when Marwan [Hamed] came to me with the idea of capturing the events and uploading them on YouTube, then it turned into something big."

The cast and crew worked for free on the project, which was given a standing ovation during its world premiere in Cannes this year.

Once released commercially, proceeds will be donated to social and healthcare projects, but directors say it will still be available on YouTube.

Just before entering Abu Dhabi Theatre for the screening, El Bendary said the movie had taken him on an emotional journey.

"This was the first time making a movie in such conditions without any compromises," he said. "It took part of my heart. It's very important to feel the experience with an Arab audience. I'm very excited."

Nasrallah said he was unaware of how much recent strikes, police brutality and rigged elections had affected Egypt. When asked to describe his image of a new Egypt, he said "one in which people are free".

"A new Egypt would be responsible for its culture, apply law and citizens are equal with rights," Nasrallah said. "The police and army cannot get away with anything any more because people have strong determination."

Abu Dhabi was the perfect location for a Middle East premiere because of its "real energy".

"At Abu Dhabi Film Festival something serious is taking place, making a huge difference to regional cinema," Nasrallah said.

Filming for 18 Days finished in March and once the project was complete, all agreed on one aspect.

"This was an honest depiction of events with a common theme," Nasrallah said. "People felt suffocated under Mubarak and only released when taking action."

melshoush@thenational.ae