Egyptian director Ahmed Fawzi Saleh is famous for focusing on the stories of the poor and shedding light on their lives in popular neighborhoods. After graduating from the Higher Institute of Cinema in 2009, he participated as a researcher and writer in many documentaries, and before graduating, he directed his short film “Mocha.” Then his first documentary film in 2010 was called “Living Skin,” in which he dealt with the lives of the poor, and for which he won several awards. awards.
In 2018, his first feature film, “Poisoned Roses,” was screened at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and won 17 awards from international and local festivals, the most important of which are 3 awards from the Cairo International Film Festival.
Weeks ago, Saleh presented the series “Belly of the Whale,” starring Mohamed Farrag, Bassem Samra, Samah Anwar, and Asma Abu Al-Yazid, topping viewership rates.
Al Jazeera Net interviewed the young director who moved to television directing after his success in documentary cinema with the films “Living Skin,” “Poisoned Roses,” and “The Story of Shadia and Her Sister.”
The story of the series “Belly of the Whale” relates to reality and history at the same time. How was this idea crystallized?
The story of the series “Belly of the Whale” revolves around the two brothers Hilal (Bassem Samra) and Diaa (Mohamed Farrag), which I heard in the ancient region of Egypt. Residents of the area confirm that a similar story has already happened. I was also thinking about the story of Cain and Abel while working on the series.
It is a story of human heritage, and singers used to tell stories and folk tales about the struggle between the two brothers, and even in the novel “The Harafish” by the writer Naguib Mahfouz, we find the story of Khader Al-Naji and his brother, and therefore the story has existed in a deep space of the human psyche since ancient times.
Why did you use a large number of honorary guests, and did you use their names only to attract attention?
Relying on professional actors is different in drama than people who belong to the reality of a documentary film, but each case has its own difficulties. In documentary works, I direct the heroes even if they are not actors, but in drama, the professional actor carries a great burden, as he must act in a way that conveys the feelings of the real hero who belongs to the story with all its human details.
The truth is that the main difficulty is that I do not seek to present an entertaining product, but rather I raise ideas and questions, and I try to bring the world of the margins to the forefront of the scene, without falling into the trap of stereotyping the characters, or even passing judgment on them, because the most important condition is that I present them as human beings who have their own human choices. .
My use of stars to attract the work is not real, because they were not used in the promotional clip, but rather they appear suddenly in the episodes. The purpose is purely artistic, whether I succeeded or not in choosing them, but I was aware from the beginning that I was creating an unfamiliar and unusual world for me. To the public.
There are rules specific to the events in the series. For example, when Hilal entered prison, and Ward divorced (Asmaa Abu Al-Yazid) so that he could marry her, Diaa, the person who presents this role must exist in the audience’s memory, and therefore it is necessary to resort to an actor that the audience knows well, so that it will not be surprising. The viewer, the viewer needed an icon that would remain stuck and present in his mind.
Perhaps the appearance of the young actor Ahmed Dash at the beginning of the events, then his killing is a confirmation to the spectator that he will enter an unusual world, so he will not be surprised if Hilal disappears from the events by entering prison, or even killing Diaa in one of the episodes.
They say you cast some guest stars in inappropriate roles. What is your opinion?
As for using some artists in characters that do not suit them, including Tamer Habib, I can confirm that the director is not required to provide his justifications, and that it is easier to present the character of the teacher from Damietta, a person with specific specifications, where he is large and wears a galabiya, but I would like the character to be embodied with a colored face. Because most of the faces in the series are authentic Egyptian faces, and the character in the series is a cowardly man who does not kill and feels fear from the slightest details, it is not a requirement for someone who commits criminal acts to appear as if he is shooting fire from his mouth.
In the end, criticism, whether negative or positive, is evidence of the success of the work, because success is raising controversy. I am not a moral preacher and I do not present educational and moral series. I seek to create controversy with society and with people, which is the necessity of art, and continuing watching is success.
How did you choose the filming location and decoration?
I refuse to present popular places and marginalized people in a stereotypical way, or to make them speak with a specific accent. In the “Belly of the Whale” series, I do not pass judgment on the characters in general, but rather put them in front of a mirror. An example of this is the character of Diaa, who was very kind at the beginning of the events, and then Hilal is a model of absolute evil, but the circumstances and motives that created him made him, and if he were to put anyone else in them, he would commit the same crimes.
I believe that the social and economic environment intertwines to create a criminal, and therefore if you choose the location of the filming as a palace, and its occupant turns into a criminal, the condemnation here will be psychological, because the person who has all the means of life available and chooses the world of crime deserves condemnation.
On the contrary, in the action and violence scenes, I consider them only a dramatic necessity, but I am not busy becoming a competitor in directing the action, because what matters to me is the idea that I present, and therefore I depict it in the same way as the other scenes, so that it is consistent with the world that I created in the story.