Yousry Nasrallah is a world-renowned director and writer from Egypt. His films have earned him recognition and awards at major film festivals such as at Cannes, Venice and TIFF. This year Nasrallah is taking on a different festival role as the President of The Filmmakers of the Present Jury at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. In anticipation of this upcoming event, we asked Nasrallah a few questions about his career.
Arab Film Festival: Did you always want to make films or is it a passion that you developed later on? How does your education in economics and political science influence your work?
Yousry Nasrallah: I always wanted to make films. At the age of 5, my father took me to watch Journey to the Center of Earth and my first questions after the screening was about who makes films. And all through my school years and later, I used to scribble film-posters in my notebooks, much to the dismay of my teachers.
From the age 16 and onward, I participated in the film-club movement which was thriving in Egypt, and regularly wrote in film publications.
After finishing my studies in economics and statistics, I went to Lebanon and worked as a film-critic for “As-Safir”, an important Lebanese newspaper.
I think, both studying at Cairo University, and the four years I spent living in Lebanon, have been crucial in providing me with the life experience that have influenced my work.
We are talking about the seventies and eighties. This is a period that was filled with politics, social turmoil and civil wars. For someone who was brought up in an upper middle class family, and who went to an elite German school in Cairo, coming out of that sheltered environment and forming friendships with people from very different social strata, helped me become the person I am now.
AFF: Your first film Summer Thefts is considered a major contribution to the revival of Egyptian cinema. What are your thoughts on the evolution of Egyptian cinema over the past 30 years?
Yousry Nasrallah: I am not sure about Summer Thefts being a contribution to the revival of Egyptian cinema. I made this film in the late eighties. Youssef Shahin, Khairy Bishara, Mohamed Khan, Daoud Abdel Sayed, Ali Badrakhan, just to name a few outstanding film makers who were very creative at that period, were making some of their very best films.
Summer Thefts might have helped creating an independent trend in Egyptian film making, albeit much later than the eighties.
When it opened in Cairo, after it screened at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes, it went fairly unnoticed. I received a few encouraging pats on the back, but it was in the early 2000s, with the emergence of independent cinema in Egypt, that young people took the film seriously.
AFF: Where do you find inspiration for your films?
Yousry Nasrallah: Life, music, literature, paintings, but mostly it comes from an insatiable appetite to discover new places and new people. When I make a film (writing, shooting, editing), I try to become like a child who is discovering the world. There is definitely an element of fear involved. I make films trying to find a way to confront a reality that is very hostile to individual expression, originality and difference.
AFF: How do you plan to approach your role of President of The Filmmakers of the Present Jury at this year’s Locarno Film Festival?
Yousry Nasrallah: I’ll watch the films with my fellow jury members, and try as much as possible to listen to what they all have to say. I expect that all of us respect the films we will be watching and passionately defend the films we love. I guess that my job will consist in allowing this respect and the very different passions to be expressed. After that, we’ll vote.
AFF: More and more of us now consume media online – how do you see our relationship with film change and evolve? And what is the role of film festivals in today’s media landscape?
Yousry Nasrallah: I still think, and will certainly continue to think, that the best place to watch a film is in a movie theater, with an audience. It is obvious that with so much content offered online, that cinema is becoming more and more a luxury. But art is a luxury, and human experience has proven that people need luxury. The role of film festivals is to encourage that luxury.
AFF: What are your plans for the future? Are there any projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
Yousry Nasrallah: I have two scripts, which I am trying to film, and I am considering directing a television series. There is something very tempting about TV series now. I have a feeling there is currently much more freedom on television, both thematically and formally, than in mainstream cinema.
The 70th Locarno International Film Festival opens August 2nd and runs through the 12th. To learn more about this year’s festival, please visit the website.