Can the lines in a hand hold stories? What memories do the grooves store? Ghada invites her mother to reflect on her life while taking us on a poetic exploration into her mother’s hands: the hands that raised five children almost single handedly. Why, Ghada asks, should someone have to give up their hands for those they love?
Hi Ghada thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these very strange times?
Thank you, I’m happy to do this, and they’re very strange times indeed. I think I’m as okay as one can be with everything that this year has been. Grateful is the state I remind myself to be in. I’m also getting ready to start my first semester in the postgraduate Erasmus Documentary Film Directing Program, so that’s something I’m very much looking forward to.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
I think it’s been useful for my spiritual development, which has been an incredible refuge for me, and which can be helpful for creative inspiration. I also was on the programming team for an Egyptian annual festival for short films (MDB Film Festival), so I watched a lot of creative works and we also had an online quarantine films competition to support the local filmmakers, so that was interesting. And I’ve been doing some commercial colouring and editing work, as well as some filming for personal projects. But in between there were just months of hiatus of course.
What does it mean to be part of Barcelona Short Film Festival's amazing lineup of short films with As You Can See?
Such an honor and thrill, not only the recognition and the chance to have the film reach a new audience, but the festival team has been fantastic with their online build up towards the screening days, and I’m grateful for that and for how they’ve adapted with the Covid challenges.
Can you tell me a little bit about As You Can See, what was the inspiration behind this documentary short?
As You Can See, is a short personal documentary. The inspiration for it came when I was working on a longer documentary about my father and an unfinished family house that he’s been trying to build for the past 12 years, that film is still in production and my mother had refused to be a part of it, and I respected her privacy but was very aware of how important her presence would be. I then started to understand the boundaries of her privacy; I was filming in that house and she was measuring some cabinets and I asked if I can only film her hands and she agreed, then I asked if I can only record her voice, and she agreed.
Along with the fact that it was the winter and that’s a time when my mother’s hands always ache her, so it all started coming together and I began to write it as a separate short film within a workshop that was supported by the Between Women Filmmakers Caravan. My hope was to make a film about the kind of maternal love that I grew up with and to question what it means to be a mother and what it means to sacrifice, as well as explore the shape that my mother’s presence could take in my work in progress feature film.
"I feel like these years have been bringing me closer to finding my voicel..."
Did you have any apprehensions about making such a personal film?
Definitely! I’m sure it is always tricky to make films about the people that you love or that are close to you, because you try to be true in both your subjective story and your portrayal of them. But the moment I knew this film was complete is when I had my best friend watch it and her first reaction was that it felt like she was watching her mother, and that was all I wanted. So I like choosing personal projects, because while it sometimes makes me anxious and it is so much harder for me than the alternatives, other times I get that feeling that I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do.
What was the experience like for you working with your mother on this film?
It will remain close to my heart I’m sure, getting to create something like this with just me and her, I loved how intimate our shoots were. We were filming at home, which required a delicate balance of finding the right time in her always busy days, and capturing the actions I needed while not interfering too much with her everyday chores. And she has a certain rhythm and speed that I tried to capture but I also needed at certain moments to ask her to slow down her movements a little for me, because while the speed at which she works needed to come across, I also sometimes wanted certain glimpses to last a little longer. The sound recording was of course a challenge because I was a one-woman crew, but I was fortunate to have the sound perfectly designed by my talented triple threat filmmaker friend Hady Bassiony, who managed to give me exactly what I wanted. Technicalities aside, I think the film brought us a little closer, it somehow turned out to be this love letter from me to her, and I think after a few days of filming, my mother started enjoying the close appreciation of these routine acts where she’s usually alone.
After working on As You Can See do you think you will continue exploring your own life and history?
I’m positive this won’t be my last personal film, I’ve worked on other people’s projects for the past 9 years and it’s been incredible, I’ve also taught at the German University in Cairo, courses of Montage and Moving Image, so I got to supervise several film projects and it’s so fulfilling, but it’s so different than working on your own projects and I’m absolutely ready for this phase of personal exploration. I feel like these years have been bringing me closer to finding my voice and preparing me for the complexities that come with this, and I want to start with what I know best.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
They say no creative work is ever really complete, so keeping that in mind, I can’t really imagine this film turning out any other way. But it taught me a lot, and there are certainly decisions I made that might’ve worked here but I don’t think I would repeat.
Where did this passion for filmmaking come from?
I am a quiet observer by nature, I enjoy watching people and Egypt is just constantly brimming with stories. But I also grew up watching my dad film everyday moments that could seem like they have nothing to them, but I’ve seen him get invested in that and he would then hand the camera over to me, to film him, and I guess it all just became part of who I am. It just built up from years of filming my surroundings as my means of wanting to retell the little moments and stories that surround me and feeling like my words aren’t the right tools for me, the visual just always connects with my heart faster.
What was the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making As You Can See?
That would be, how it makes a world of difference when I get outside of my head and just create. I’ve come to clearly see that the work I do without the overthinking is always far more effective and meaningful than with the layers of critique and doubt that definitely limit me.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
I believe that filmmakers should just work on always being true to themselves and with that I would imagine pushing the boundaries will happen on its own.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
It’s still a long way for me to be in a place where I can be confidently offering advice. But a piece of advice that has been passed on to me more than once and has always been a saver, is to keep the question “Why?” present in my head whenever a project starts to get overwhelming, "Why am I doing this?" might sound simple but sometimes it’s all I need to recenter and see what might be causing me confusion.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from As You Can See?
I hope they get to see a part of themselves in the story, and maybe question what sacrifice and maternal love means to them, witness a glimpse of what it means to be an Egyptian mother from that generation but also a woman in general.