Egyptian filmmaker Daoud Abdel Sayed talks to Liz Shackleton about working with child actors and tackling the supernatural in his latest film, Out Of The Ordinary, which is premiering at DIFF.

Receiving its world premiere at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), Daoud Abdel Sayed’s Out Of The Ordinary tells the story of a doctor who takes a holiday in Alexandria when his research into the existence of psychic powers in humans draws a blank.

He settles into a seaside guesthouse, home to an eccentric bunch of characters, and run by a young widow who also lives there with her seven-year-old daughter. While all the guests seem to have some kind of extraordinary talent – whether it’s singing, painting or filmmaking – the daughter appears to have the supernatural gifts that have eluded the doctor for so long.

At first he’s excited, but as he starts to question the validity of his research, the girl’s powers attract the attention of the authorities, creating problems for everyone in the guesthouse.

The film stars Khaled Abol Naga, who previously worked with Abdel Sayed in his 2001 comedy A Citizen, A Detective And A Thief, while TV actress and presenter Naglaa Badr plays the widow and Mariam Tamer plays the daughter.

Known as a founding figure in Egypt’s school of neo-realism, Abdel Sayed’s credits include three films that were selected by critics for DIFF’s 100 Greatest Arab Films list – Kit Kat (1991), Land Of Fear (2000) and his last film Messages From The Sea (2010).

His new film is produced by New Century Production, the production arm of Cairo-based distributor Dollar Film, which is one of the region’s oldest film companies.

As you are known for films about social issues, why did you decide to tackle the subject of the supernatural?

The film’s main focus is the society. The ‘out of the ordinary’ here does not refer to the super psychic abilities that make one able to move objects. It’s about the inner powers that make people able to achieve their goals in work, love or even education; everything in their lives. Having this reference to the psychic powers in the film is merely to highlight the inner powers in humans that awaken when they believe in what they want.

Has the supernatural ever been explored in Egyptian or Arab cinema before?

I’m not sure if it has been discussed before in Egyptian films. I really cannot recall and I am not 100% sure that it has never been discussed before.

But do you think the film’s depiction of supernatural powers might prove controversial in Egypt?

The part that has been proving controversial is the bikini shot that was featured in the film’s trailer. Some people are judging before seeing with their own eyes and this shows how ignorant this segment of the population can be.

Is there a social or political message in the film?

People in general do not accept a life that is lived under any form of restrictions. In the end, they are human beings. They have the right to live freely and to be treated equally. If you cannot grant people what they need, you will fail. What I want to say is that we should respect each other’s privacy and freedom. Any restrictions imposed by any system will lead to the toppling of that system.

The young girl who plays the daughter is very charming – how did you find her?

Before I saw Mariam, I tested many other girls. When I first saw Mariam, she looked tired as she came from school to the studios for the audition. It was a very small test. All I asked was to imagine that she is sitting on the floor where a banana peel is lying in front of her. All of a sudden, a well-dressed elegant man who is walking slips on it. I wanted to see her reaction and when she laughed out loud, it was amazing, and I decided to choose her. I should also mention that acting coach Reem Hegab made great efforts with Mariam and trained her very well for the role.

Can you tell us about your relationship with the film’s production company New Century – have you worked with them before?

No, this is the first time for me to work with New Century Productions, and to tell you the truth, it’s the best production company I’ve ever dealt with.

Do you know what your next project is? 

I have an idea in my mind but it’s not complete yet. I am trying to write a script but I do not know when I will finish it. You could say that I’m in the research phase.