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Cannes Film Festival: THE BRINK OF DREAMS by Power Couple and Directors Nada Riyadh & Ayman El Amir


Cannes - Rafaat einy ll sama / The Brink of Dreams / Les Filles du Nil
The Brink of Dreams (Les Filles du Nil or Rafaat einy ll sama) is a story that takes place in a remote village in southern Egypt. A group of girls rebel by forming an all-female street theater troupe. They dream of becoming actresses, dancers and singers, challenging their families and villagers with their unexpected performances. Shot over four years, The Brink of Dreams follows them from childhood to womanhood, facing the most crucial choices of their lives.

Egyptian filmmakers Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir talk about their keen observation of human behavior and crafting narratives that are both engaging and thought-provoking in their latest project.

AM: When did you first encounter the heroines of your film?

NR & AEA: We met them in 2014 and saw them performing for the first time in a nearby village. We felt that we were witnessing a small miracle because they were very young with a daring performance as they interacted with the people. This wasn’t always welcomed; you can also hear that not all of the reactions were positive. But they kept moving and performing, so we stayed in touch. In this film, we were also the protagonists and we were directing, so it is a personal movie. Actually, they first asked us to shoot them and that's how it all started. We didn't know anything about their parents, we wanted to learn more about them and started meeting their families little by little as we were staying for long periods of time in their village.

AM: It took you four years to complete the film, were you worried about changes over time?
NR & AEA: I think it was quite important for us very early on to establish a production model that would allow us to film for a long time. It was about building trust with the crew, the girls and the community. That helped us maintain a good rhythm of filming, and I think in general, four years is a time when everyone will change like even us personally, we were changing too. We were not worried about that; it was just extremely important for us to have a strong relationship and to be able to have a dialogue with everyone experiencing these major things. It was crucial to have an openness about what we were doing, and what they wanted, and how they are changing their mindsets about what they wanted in life.

AM: How was it like being on set?
NR & AEA: The village and families were very welcoming, so in the beginning they had of course many questions; Who are you? What do you want? What are you shooting? Why are you shooting? etc. But as soon as we established the trusting relationship everything became easier afterwards. They were so generous; we ate some of the most delicious food in their in their houses, we've been to so many weddings and many funerals in that village as well, we've been so embedded into their community.

AM: And how was it like working together?
NR & AEA: We are a couple in real life and it’s not the first time we work with each other. I think we understand our artistic values and what we want to do and our approach to filmmaking. But it's difficult as well because sometimes you cannot separate your personal life from work life. I think each one of us could have made the film about the topic but it wouldn't be the film we wanted. This is our second feature documentary together and for us it's always important for the final product to be representative of each one of us without any compromises. We have to be completely in it which takes a lot of work and a lot of dialogue and friction, but it's worth it for the both of us.

AM: In the Middle East there's always interest in women in the region and their struggles, why do you think this makes such strong material for our filmmakers?
NR & AEA: We were mesmerized by this group of women who were discussing issues in theater that were important to them. Like early marriage, education and things from their personal lives. There was no way to make the film without embracing this and going on with it. A lot of times when we are asked questions, I feel like people want to focus on the general image that the Middle East is a place where women are oppressed. But I think these powerful strong characters kind of break the cycle; they're not victims, they have agency and they have loud voices and art. They were here with us in Cannes, they attended the premiere and did a street performance. I have to say it takes a lot of courage from them to be here with the audience and to interact with everyone.

AM: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the role of women in the Arab world?
NR & AEA: Gender equality is a topic that has been discussed for a very long time and there are ups and downs in any feminist movement. I think we are making advances sometimes and taking steps backwards at others. At this moment, after seeing these groups of young women, I cannot help but believe that there is a power of women collectors and that we wanted this film to be part of this movement. We are aiming to screen the film in the villages of South Egypt and also have our characters perform. We need to raise awareness that lead to discussions and questions about gender equality and women empowerment, and also representation of women on the screen.

AM: For an audience who would like to understand who an Egyptian woman is, what are some characteristics that make her special?
NR & AEA: I think resilience. Everyone underestimates the rule of women who are living in a very patriarchal environment even if we pretend that it's not. There are huge pressures on women, they are resilient, even if you cannot recognize or see it. I would say they are feisty as well. An Egyptian woman has a way of expressing herself that catches attention, basically not just somebody timid in the corner.