Thursday, August 2, 2012

LFF2012 - Interview Khaled Ramadan


 Documentary (see article underneath COMPETITION PARTIE 1)


1)            Have you had problems during the production of this documentary?

 Egypt proved to be one of the most difficult places to film in the Arab world. People are extremely sensitive to cameras and always questioning the motive behind anyone shooting in public spaces.
My problem was partly with the Mubarak authoritarian regime. I was stopped several times by the intelligence agencies, the army and the police, but managed to reason with everybody quietly, except when citizens stop you and question your intentions or ask which TV station you belong to in order to place you. This makes filming in public relatively complicated.

Egypt is the largest producer of Arab movies, which means that people should be used to cameras in urban and even in rural districts. But no. The Mubarak regime marketed a scheme urging the population to watch for foreigners with professional cams in hand, because some might wish to exploit and misrepresent Egypt’s image abroad. This notion makes every filmmaker a suspect, especially those who don’t look Egyptian.
I was asked if I was an Israeli spy or working for American TV. I was stopped and not allowed to film at the pyramid site in Giza, at the Red sea, at Tahreer Square several times, and at a mall in Masser Gedeeda I was not allowed to bring my big camera inside the mall despite that it was inside a shoulder bag. All this didn’t prevent us from getting the footage we needed for the film, but we went through some extra hassle.

In regards to the film “I told President Mubarak” people were open when we were shooting outdoor, but only when seeing Hamdeen Sabahy being filmed by us. Sabahy was a parliamentarian at the time and a known figure in Egyptian politics.
For the record Hamdeen Sabahy’s dream was to become a film director, but he went into politics instead. Still, he has a passion for filmmaking and suggested ideas and even filmed us at some points. During the three weeks I remained with him, he understood what I wanted and was a great help during the filming process.

2) Tell us about your career.

I started my career as a visual artist in Beirut, moved to Europe in the 90s, got a Master in Architecture from Edinburg College of Art and did a Ph.D at Copenhagen University in Visual Culture. I started my academic tutoring at different academies in Scandinavia, went on to work with art critic and theoretical writing, and finally to curating.
Khaled Ramadan - director of
"I told President Mubarak"
I co-curated the European Biennial Manifesta 8 in Spain, worked as a Senior Advisor and cultural policy maker at the Danish Arts Council, Ministry of Culture for about three years, and I still teach at different universities in Europe in social design, information aesthetics and documentary film theory. I am also the Managing Director of the Art Consultancy Unit Regardless of all that I never stopped my documentary film production.

When it comes to my personal activities, I like to use the term “artivism” - a combination of art, archiving and activism - as the driving force in what I do. Artivism is so when I apply the usage of information in an aesthetical way but not necessarily for aesthetical reasons simply. And since information is the basic ingredient in what I do as an artivist, I suppose it is difficult to squeeze most of my practices and processes under the category of art and aesthetics.
In an interview for IBRAAZ my dear friend, artist Ursula Biemann refers to me as a reformative, professional image maker. I guess it is because I often experiment with new designations to find much larger physical and theoretical spaces that will allow me to include the informative experience and strengthen its social application.

I consider both my theoretical and my physical productions to be of reformative nature. It is so because I often re-examine and restructure the very medium I work with. I cancel the medium's functions and try to expand it in order to make a new system out of it, so it may end looking like a film or a documentary while in reality it is something else, or about something else. This something else can include or be the very content, the information deposited in the production but also the motivation behind a work.

3) What happened to the politician Hamdeen Sabahy after the revolution?

Hamdeen Sabahy was one of the 10 presidential candidates in Egypt. He got about 4 million votes and came in third, so he didn’t make it to the second round.
The man was forcibly ousted from parliament when the Mubarak regime falsified the result of the election in October 2010. Sabahy and other opposition activists took to the streets to protest and slowly the people started supporting the opposition and protesting against the parliamentary election, other socio-economic issues, and government brutality. All this led to the January uprising across Egypt and Hamdeen Sabahy was always in the street protesting, as he has been since he was 18 when he confronted former President Sadat. 
I met him two weeks ago at his home and he told me that he is not accepting any political post in the coming government, no matter its formation. I understand him. He is exhausted after a long and effective period of participation in the uprising with his family and supporters. He decided to take a contemplating position but remain on alert and in opposition to any surprises may accrue in Egypt. 
4) Do you have other future plans for Egypt?

Indeed, I am in Cairo now working on two different documentaries, yet again linking the particular and personal to the political.
The Arab Marine is a documentary about Al Husseini who grew up in Egypt as a Palestinian. He is the grandson of Hajj Amin Al Husseini, the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Al Husseini moved to the USA and volunteered in the Army to obtain American citizenship. He served in Iraq for six years. Then he went back to Cairo to find himself protesting against the Mubarak regime using his music and art as a symbol of protest.
The documentary is about a person who made the most important decision in his life to notice later how that decision was not private or personal, but a decision with national, regional and international consequences.
Being an Arab first and an American second means that one belongs to two different national groups, or two conflicting environments, simultaneously. This multiple positioning makes Al Husseini a volume case to be addressed in an informative documentary format, showing the processes and stages of Karim Al Husseini’s life.

The second documentary is about the oldest café in the Arab world, Café Fishawy. Fahmi Ali El Fishawy began serving coffee to his friends in an alley of Cairo's Khan alKhalili district each evening after the prayers at Al Hussain Mosque. He gradually added mint tea and anise tea to his informal menu, as well as water pipes, and El Fishawy Cafe was a reality. With time, the gatherings have grown larger and famous Egyptian writers, painters, musicians and intellectuals have made the place theirs. I am focusing on Najib Mafouz’s room at the café and the café’s role and impact on Egyptian culture, politics, film industry and the neighboring urban setting.
We are done with the filming of both projects and now to the rigid part, the postproduction.

Khaled Ramadan
Cairo, summer 2012

Interview by Reem Samarani
Since six years Khaled Ramadan is also contributing to the Chamber of Public Secrets which just launched an informative corporation called DocuLogia for Critical Media Production. It has a new productive vision of reusable information and aesthetics in documentary film making, to cater for the new Arab world. To learn more visit

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