Ibrahim El Batout talks to Screen about his latest film Winter of Discontent.
Ibrahim El Batout’s drama Winter of Discontent, starring Amr Waked as an activist in the events leading up to the Egyptian revolution at the beginning of 2010, will screen in the Muhr Arab Feature competition at the Dubai International Film Festival.
How did the film come about?
I missed the early days of the revolution in late January. I was at the Rotterdam Film Festival presenting my film The Juggler (Hawi). When I got back I went straight down to Tahrir Square. I was shocked by what I saw… at once confused and happy… I knew I had to make something. I called Amr [Waked] on Feb 10 and we started shooting the scenes in the square that very day. The next day Mubarak stepped down. We decided we wanted to make something of quality rather than a low budget film. A lot of us – me, the DoP, the actors and other departments – contributed with our salaries to get the film made.
You spent two days shooting on the square before going on to a set to shoot the rest of the film, was it difficult, dangerous?
I was a war correspondent for 18 years, so I know how to deal with people. If you aren’t arrogant, respect people and don’t hide behind the camera but have eye to eye contact with people, they’ll do whatever you want.
As you said, you were a war correspondent for 18 years, was it difficult to transition in to making feature-length films?
Filmmaking was what helped me carry on. I was very disturbed after 18 years of covering 12 wars, psychologically very, very tired. Switching to fiction helped me create a reality I can deal with because the reality I filmed was too harsh. I don’t want to go back to covering wars but now the war has come to me.
How did you research the interrogation and torture scenes in the film?
They’re based on the accounts of people I know. My brother was tortured. He features at the beginning of the film. He explained to me the details of what happened to him and I reconstructed it. Of course, it was hard shooting those scenes in the sense of creating images of pain and agony and despair.
Egypt’s revolution isn’t over. Do you think it’s a subject you’ll tackle again?
I’m not driven by story. I’m not driven by what happens when and to whom. That doesn’t inspire me to make films — sometimes it’s a scene, sometimes, a picture, an emotion or a mood but it’s never telling a story from A to B to C – you can tell stories in different forms — cinema is more sacred than that. Whether I’ll do something else about the revolution, it’s hard to tell. I’m still processing it intellectually myself. I’m used to living in uncertainty. I like to keep myself undecided. I’ve discovered lately that I am very much anti-preparation… If I have to get into writing and fund-raising, it kills me big time and it kills my interest in the idea.