BBC Arabic Festival: Mohamed Siam Talks About His Award-Winning Film ‘Amal’

With this feature documentary, the director Mohamed Siam portrays Amal, a young woman, who grows into adulthood in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.

Shot over six years, the film cuts between unfolding current events and the pivotal changes in Amal’s life. While she fights to be heard on the streets and at home, we witness her evolving identity reflect her nation in flux. In Egypt, even for a young, fiery woman like Amal – whose name means ‘hope’ – her options for the future are limited.

The documentary has won numerous prizes including the Jury award at the Sheffield festival, the Tanit d’Or at the Golden Tanit JCC Carthage festival, the FidaDoc Prize 2018 in Morocco, and many more.

The documentary will be screened on 25 March 2019 at 7.30pm as part of the fifth BBC Arabic Festival (@BBCArabicFest). The festival will take place in the iconic art-deco Radio Theatre at BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London between 22-27 March 2019. Free tickets for the film are available here.

Q: I believe you were looking for a football fan or ultra when you came across Amal. Can you talk about your initial vision for this film and how meeting Amal changed that?

A: I wanted to make a film about youth, Arab youth, and how the experience of the Arab Spring impacted on their lives. Meeting Amal enriched this idea and made it more layered. It became about women and women’s place in the Arab world. It became about all of us who feel like a minority inside our own communities even though we are not.

Q: Amal’s father passed away when she was 10. Can you talk about the influence he – and his loss – has had on Amal’s life?

A: Amal’s father left her when she was about to construct her consciousness of him and the real world. That left her dreaming of this idolised figure to the present day. He represents everything to her: a father, an idol, a god, an icon, and most of all a guide – there are words she’s taken from him and has followed until now.

Q: Amal is part of a generation coming-of-age during a period of change in post-revolution Egypt. Was it interesting for you to see the parallels between Amal and the changes in society?

A: Absolutely. The whole point of following Amal for six years was to follow this parallel between her life and changes in her that, like a mirror, reflect the social and political changes in the country. Amal’s story is a reflection and a proxy of the bigger story of Egypt.

It was incredible to witness how she was growing up, oscillating between extremes and finding her own identity, and how it was the exact same trajectory for Egypt.

Q: How did your relationship with Amal change over the course of filming?

A: We got closer. Amal and I were very close from the beginning. I played the role of chaperone as she was only 14 when I first met her. Even her mother would ask me to bring her home safely and take care of her.

Amal is 22 now and throughout the filming our relationship has grown, and I have become a big brother figure. But during the filming, the camera and the filmic device become more distanced from the character as time passed by. So in the beginning we see mainly close-ups and close shots.

Bit by bit, however, one chapter after another, we see the camera giving Amal space. We get to see more of the environment around her. This is for two reasons: first because as a young girl growing up into a young woman, I wanted to protect her privacy; second, it was important for me to see not only Amal’s face inside the frame, but also to show her in relation to the political and social context, which became increasingly important year after year.


Q: In the opening scene of the film, Amal wears a Superman t-shirt. How do you view her?

A: I see her as a superwoman given the circumstances she lives in. To me, her superpower is not being a fighter, even though she is. It’s her super capacity to adapt. She’s a great survivor – like all those little children in the darkest fairy tales who have to go through terrible obstacles but still they keep going, whatever happens…

Q: Can you think of one memory or story about Amal that best summarises her as a person?

A: In the scene where she debates with the policemen, I didn’t know what she was about to do. I was following her with my camera, then all of a sudden, we were both inside the lion’s den. Amal wasn’t aware of the consequences for either of us.

She reacts instinctively, naturally and never reflects on the results. She has no fear because she doesn’t calculate things the way most of us do.

Q: What do you think UK audiences can learn from Amal and this film?

A: Many things. First, that the young generation have their word and a say in their future, especially nowadays when they’re forced to grow up much faster, even if they don’t have a voice and political representation yet. The biggest current example is Brexit (although it’s not for me to criticise that, but it’s an observation…).

Q: Amal’s name translates to ‘hope’. What hope did you take away from working on this film?

A: My hope for this film was to gamble on the future and on the change this generation might make. My hope is that we pursue what we believe in, even if the whole world crumbles around us.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I’m currently writing my first fiction film – another one about the police. This would be the third chapter of the trilogy  after Whose Country and Amal.

I’ve also got another three projects in development. One is a docu-fiction about illegal abortion. The second is a fiction about a zoo in the middle of the uprising. And the third film is about ‘gilets jaunes’ and political changes in Europe.

For more info about the BBC Arabic Festival

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