Bushra Rozza is an Egyptian Superstar who has been a prolific actress and singer. Bushra has impacted the Egyptian and Arab society with her progressive and liberal outlook. She’s the Co-Founder of the inaugural El Gouna Film Festival. Bollywood Hungama‘s Content Head Broadband Faridoon Shahryar spoke to Bushra during the ongoing festival and she shared a unique perspective on the powerful Egyptian women, how proliferation of cinema cuts down the impact of radical forces and what are her future plans with regards to the festival.
This is wonderfully well organized festival Bushra. When you mentioned about it to me in March this year I didn’t realise the big scale that you had visualised for El Gouna Film Festival.
Coming from you this means a lot. It all started when Amr Mansi had a squash tournament in El Gouna and he is the main founder and now he is the co-founder of El-Gouna film festival. It was a very successful tournament. It was a very successful championship for squash. But then we found El-Gouna the best place to have a film festival. It has been a dream of many film makers in El-Gouna to have a film festival because it’s a cosmopolitan place. They had cinemas but they needed to be renewed. It’s a chilled place, it’s easy here. It’s a place for creativity for film makers to be more and more creative away from capital and all that noise, drama, tragedy. So we thought why not make it happen, since the squash tournament has been so successful after 6 years. So we started talking to the owners of El-Gouna Naghuib Sawiris who is the main founder of the film festival. He loves cinema and he is someone who is known to invest in cinema. He likes cinema, he has production companies so he is very happy to hear that thought. So this is when it all started.
Coming to the second part, a festival like this does a lot for Egypt as well. There is a certain image of Egypt that is built because of the tension and extremism. But we see a progressive culture and intellectual and liberal people all around us here. Do you feel something like this helps in changing perspective about people?
Absolutely, and that was the main target, at least for me personally. I always say politics complicates things, politics does not solve problems. Politics should not rise above human misunderstandings, but art and film-making and cinema does. I have this quote that I always say if you have an extra film maker every day and if you win and add an extra creative person every day ISIS losses one. This is how I think of it. In order to have different image and new wave, you have to speak their language. Because that’s the nature we talk to each other all the time and we think that others understand us. Cinema helps in making a lot of peaceful conversation between different nations. It makes us feel more understood and they see us correctly.
You have done films about gender inequality, and how women tend to be wrongly perceived with regards to their sexuality and how they are mistreated as well. Do you think such cinema helps in changing perspective about Egyptian women?
Yes it helps change perspective of people. One of my films helped in two things, one being helping women to stop the silence regarding the issue of sexual harassment. Second thing was that it actually made the law effective. The problem with women in silence is that they don’t complain, they don’t report cases. So it was on 2 levels, one was something regarding the psychology of women who need to say and scream that she was harassed and this scream has helped in changing the laws. In history of Egyptian cinema 678 must be the 4th film to actually push and help and change the rigid laws that were just on papers and they were not really practical. Sometimes when you make films they help and support your culture, your society. They change a lot in the perspective and mentalities of the people who are very conservative about how to express yourself.
We saw a film ‘Sheikh Jackson’, Egyptian entry to Oscars. The entire battle that the protagonist has in term of battling between overt religiosity and his quest for expressing himself freely is a highly liberating experience.
He can’t live his life because he was lying to himself about who he was. It’s a matter of identity. This film is all about that, I have lived in this generation that loves Michael Jackson. And I loved the details by the director that he has put in his film. The problem with thoughts is that they can imprison your freedom; you can feel imprisoned because of your thoughts. And sometimes you need to free yourself but you can never free your thoughts. If you don’t express yourself, Sheikh Jackson has showed it in a very simple and neat way. Maybe some fundamentalists will not be happy about it, because you have a Michael Jackson praying in a mosque. Still what’s very important is that its liberating and that’s what we need. Cinema is liberating. Even if you are attacked and accused of being so and so you still have to believe in what you believe in. And you can express it by filmmaking, by directing, by acting.
There were two sides to women that were portrayed. One is about his wife, who is willing to undergo physical transformation to please her husband, and then there is the girl who transformed him during teenage and she happens to be free spirited. His daughter is a Beyonce fan. How do you look at the portrayal of different women?
Let me talk about Egyptian women. By nature they are very strong and independent. They are the mother and father of the family especially nowadays. Egyptian women are strong by nature and by blood. The thing is with the society that oppresses her. That’s the problem of how they are perceived, of how the society looks at them. But in her nature she is strong. I like the fact that they have 3 different types of women in the film and three different ages as well. I think it was very smart of the director who is the writer as well to actually have those three different ideas of women. And I also like how at end his wife says you think I was waiting for you to bring the internet back to the house. She loves him and she is trying to tell him to be easier with life and be more flexible. He is imprisoned in his own thoughts and all that issues with his background and his thoughts. I actually like how they shot three different women in three different eras of different age groups.
What are your plans for next year? I would take Indian perspective because there is Mukkabaaz and Doob by Bangladeshi film director featuring Irrfan Khan.
For right now we cannot tell that. First we have to finish what we started and we can only hope and think and plan to have more involvement from the Indian cinema, Indian celebrities and Indian film makers. Some films we actually wanted to have in the festival this year but for some reason they wanted to go to some other festival. They were not thinking of how big it is, as its now. Not everyone can believe in you when you are not launched today. So it wasn’t that easy to convince others to come to this side of the world. Even Irrfan Khan was invited to be on our advisory board but I don’t know for some reason he couldn’t. A lot of people thought it was just going to be a small family gathering type of film festival. But when they came to the opening and they saw how serious we were with our selection of the films. We want to show the outside world that we are ready to make a serious film festival in this country and that would answer your question about what would a festival like this do for Egypt. I think by being serious about your job, by inviting serious people and film makers who go to Cannes and Berlin and they come to you with their films or even for the industry platform. I think that is enough message to show how important we want this festival to be.
Some important films are being shown at El- Gouna film festival, ‘The Insult’ is being shown today which is from Lebanon and there are certain Muslims countries that are conservative. At some places it’s a matter of life and death to even express your thoughts.
It’s not about Muslims or Christianity. Its more politics than it is about religion or conservative minds against a film. It’s more political. All nations are wounded and everyone has their own pain. So when someone decides to come and open this wound or this part of your soul or spirit that is hurt, I think you have to scream in the beginning until you adjust till you eventually take it easy with the pain. That’s what movie ‘The Insult’ is doing. Nations tend to want to be spoon-fed. They want to be shocked. Either you shock your nation with your films or you spoon-feed them the reality or the truth step by step. So what he did with his film was more of a shocking way of speaking about the topic. It was well-received here and everybody loved the film. The first screening was an outdoor screening and 925 seats were full. Today is the second screening for the film. Director Ziad Doueri also won the Variety award which is a great recognition as the best talent of the year.
You also had ‘The other side of hope’ a film from Finland. That’s a movie about Syrian crisis. Do you feel such cinema gives voice to voiceless? It’s an entertaining film too due to the humour element.
We selected cinema for humanity our slogan as a festival, it’s not just a slogan we believe in it. Our founder was one of the only people who offered to buy a whole island of refugees. We saw the little boy Elan on the show when his family wanted to escape Syria and escape the war that was happening there. It’s always in him to help others and to help humanity and the less fortunate. So when we started this whole film festival it was his idea to make it cinema for humanity. Most of the films are about refugees and our closing film will be human flaw which is again a very serious piece of art and documentation for the situation for more than 36 countries in the world. We are very serious about the cause and we are very serious about the cinema for humanity. Those types of films interpret. They show the serious need or serious target audience of the festival.