Egyptian Director A.B. Shawky Premieres Yomeddine In Cannes

Yomeddine is one of the two Arab films in the Official Selection in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2018. A very genuine and authentic work of art as described by many of the spectators we have interviewed.

The film revolves around Beshay, a man cured of leprosy and who has never left the leper colony in the Egyptian desert where he lived since childhood. After the death of his wife, he decides to go in search of his roots. On a donkey and his humble possessions, he launches on a journey of discovery before being joined by Obama, a Nubian orphan. They both cross Egypt as they start confronting the world and its sorrows, hardships and moments of grace, in a quest for a family, a place to belong and humanity.

The title Yomeddine comes from the Arabic word meaning the “Day of Judgment,” a religious connotation of a day that follows the death of an individual and where everyone will be regarded as equal and judged according to their deeds, rather than their looks. An event that is especially precious for people who feel they are looked down upon in society. And through his film Yomeddine, director A.B. Shawky wanted to tell the story of the underdog, the outsider, who is unaccepted by the world around him.

Can you tell us about your journey before the film?
I’m 32, my father is Egyptian and my mother is Austrian. She’s a film buff and helped me discover cinema. When I was younger she used to take me to see lots of films, and particularly independent ones. I studied film in Egypt, and later was accepted into N.Y.U. Tisch School of the Arts in New York to continue my studies. And that’s where I started to write this film.

Where did the idea of Yomeddine come from?
The idea of Yomeddine came when I was filming a short documentary that chronicles the stories of the residents of the Abu Zaabal Leper Colony north of Cairo. I came to realize that leprosy is more of a social issue than a medical one, and that it had pushed the residents into seclusion from the rest of the world.

How was the filming process like?
I wrote the screenplay between 2013 and 2014 and then went back to Egypt to try to find the financing. It wasn’t easy: I was a beginner trying to make a film with a potentially disturbing subject and with no known actor. We found a few partners and put in a fair amount of our own money. Finally we started shooting in September 2015 and finished in 2016. We had no money left for post-production. People we approached told us: “Finish the film, then we’ll decide if we want to invest.”

In 2017, I was able to get some more money together and to continue working on the project. My wife and I made this film together; she produced it, I directed it. We are unknown in the Egyptian film world and everyone was very surprised when we were selected for Cannes!

Tell us more about the exceptional Beshay, the film’s main character?
The choice to have Beshay be played by a non-actor leper came with the intention to give both the character and the man the chance to be defined by his humanity, not his disease. The theme is to not to look away from the outcasts we encounter in the in the film, but to see past their appearances and focus on their character. Despite the seemingly heavy content, Yomeddine is treated in a light-hearted manner, highlighting Beshay’s spirit in the face of misery.

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