Withered Green with Egyptian director Mohammed Hammad

On Sunday evening the ALFILM festival showed Withered Green, the new film from the young Egyptian director Mohammed Hammad. Hammad is one of the emerging directors of Egyptian independent cinema. The film had its premier at the Locarno Festival and received a prize in December 2016 at the Dubai Film Festival.

© Katja Volkenant

After the death of his parents, Iman lives with her younger sister Nuha in a dreary apartment in Cairo. The atmosphere throughout the film, like the circumstances of the two sisters, is very cold. The film shows the daily life of the melancholy Iman who is trapped between the pressures of being an older sister and the changes happening to her own body. The younger sister Nuha is about to get married to her lover Amr, but tradition demands the presence of a male relative at the marriage ceremony. Since their father is dead and their remaining family are distant, Iman must cautiously approach her uncle Fathy to ensure that Nuha’s chance at marriage is not endangered.

 

© Katja Volkenant

Withered Green played at the ALFILM Festival not only as part of the official selection but also as part of the Spotlight Program: Reflections on Arab Masculinities. For this reason, the moderator Rabih El-Khoury was especially interested in the ideas behind the film. Hammad said that over time he met many different people, all of whom had very particular character traits. He wanted to find a person who combined all these character traits and eventually he found Iman. It was also important to the director to encounter people in diverse contexts – every encounter lead to new stories. In addition to the concept of the time, Hammad wanted to include version symbols and their significance in society. For example, he asked himself what the symbolic role the uncle plays, and what role society assigns to him as a man. Hammad admittedly was less interested in the subject of gender. He finds it difficult to categorize the film as feminist. That the two protagonists are women doesn’t necessarily mean that the film deals with gender-specific themes.

Hammad met the leading actress, who is not a professional performer, through a coincidence. She was working at a bank and had thought about changing career, having done some artistic work before. Hammad imagined her in the leading role and eventually persuaded her to act in the film.

Lastly Hammad spoke about his work as a director with a very limited budget. He chose this path deliberately because he feels that having significant funds would be capitalist and restrictive – it would end up affecting the entire process of filming. He dreams of film as an art that even street artists could pursue, independently and in an anonymous way. The smaller the budget got, the more closely the film would approximate his own personal vision. A large budget would have robbed the director of his verve and spirit.