17th ÉCU
The European Independent Film Festival 2022 

8th - 10th April 2022 
Interview

Maysaa Almumin
J'ai Le Cafard (Bint Werdan)
Section: Arab Special Selection 
ecufilmfestival.com

A woman in a downhearted mood struggles to keep up appearances in front of her chirpy and driven office colleagues. An encounter with a dying cockroach in the office toilet develops into an absurd friendship, becoming the comforting companionship she needs until she realizes its destructive effects on her life.

Hi Maysaa thank you for talking to The New Current, how are you holding up during these very strange and very difficult times?

It has been strange, but in some ways it has been good. On the negative side, my film was launched into the festival world exactly as the pandemic started so it hasn’t had the opportunity to screen much to a live audience but on the positive side, the online presence has allowed me to follow and virtually attend more festivals than I would have if all events were live in person.

 

Has this time offered you any creative inspiration or opportunities?

Absolutely!  I made a new short film called ‘…And I Was Left Behind’ in a documentary lab lead by award winning Rithy Panh, that was instigated by the world shared experience of isolation during the pandemic. It was premiered in the Cairo Film Festival last November. I also used the time to write a new short script titled 'Tango & Machboos' that I hope to shoot early next year in Finland as well as developing a feature length script titles 'Good Grief'. The virtual platforms have created amazing and fast modes of working and connecting with people and it really has given my projects a good momentum.

 

Congratulations on having J'ai le Cafard (Bint Werdan) part of the 17th ÉCU Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be back at the festival and part of such an incredible Arab Special Selection?

The ÉCU Film Festival, has been on my radar for a while, it has been screening some very important Arab film in the past, so it was especially exciting to be selected!

 

You have had an amazing festival run with J'ai le Cafard (Bint Werdan), winning an Honourable Mention at Cinefantasy International Fantastic Cinema Festival (2021) did you imagine you would get this type of recognition for your film?

Winning awards like this has been incredibly encouraging, in particular in the genre film festival circuit where the audience and members are truly passionate and insightful about the films they watch! Another two wonderful awards the film has received has been the special mention at Maskoon Film Festival, another favourite genre film festival. It not only means a lot to me personally but also to be able to share recognition for the cast and crew that have put so much work and passion into the film. So when the actress of the film, receives best actress award for this film for Enas El Fallal from Madeira Fantastic Film Festival, it really makes my day and fills me with pride for her.

 

Does being named one of Screen International’s Arab Stars of Tomorrow (2021) add any additional pressure on you?

Haha, yes it does, but it motivates me too! That’s some pretty big endorsement,  and I am so grateful for it. It is wonderful to be among other driven members of the Arab film industry, new and unique stories are being told with a strong sense of agency and I am so excited to be part of it.

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Can you tell me how J'ai le Cafard (Bint Werdan) came about, what was the inspiration behind your vision for this film, and what was the message you wanted to convey with this film?

The film is semi-autobiographical. There was a moment I felt low, unfulfilled and working in a highly driven corporate environment.  As I would hide away in the office bathrooms, I saw a struggling, dying cockroach and I would just stare at it for a long time rather than go back to my office cubicle; it reminded me of one of the first phrases I learned when I was learning French as a child ‘J’ai le Cafard’ and I thought how apt this imagery is of depression. Here was a cockroach in my head. I was well aware that people would make the immediate Kafka relationship, but I subtly poke a little fun at that connection in the film, in the opening shots there is a book the Woman has by her bedside- Streets of Crocodiles by Bruno Schultz, a writer frequently compared to Kafka.

 

When working on a film like this how close do you like to keep to your script once you start filming, do you allow yourself much flexibility?

With this particular film I kept extremely close to the script, I’d spent a year between the script writing till shooting, the imagery was being refined over and over, so by the time of shooting and editing, that malleability had already taken its solid form by then. It is quite different for the next film I did which was more process driven, the shooting informed the direction and then the editing was an even bigger part of the subsequent outcome. I really enjoy both processes.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing J'ai le Cafard (Bint Werdan) to life and looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

I knew the challenges would be plenty. To name a few working with uncooperative puppets, uncooperative live cockroaches, finding and actress who would agree to act with both, filming in country I hadn’t filmed in before and the list goes on, but it was exactly these challenges and components I knew would be important to make the film how I envisioned it and so I really would not do anything differently nor would I change a thing.

 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and how much does your background in acting help inform your approach to writing and directing?

I am actually an architect by training and I had a long-standing love for watching films. In terms of world building, production design and the creation of spaces, film has always been important in architectural studies, but I hadn’t pursued this creative outlet until much later. It was once I reached my forties that I had a bit of a creative renaissance, if you will. I did all I can to learn about filmmaking, but acting was far more accessible at the time. Generally speaking, as an actor one tends to be present more frequently film sets than a film director, and that way I observed and learned the practicalities of filmmaking, I understood the different roles crew and different set etiquette. Honestly, if I hadn’t had that experience I would have been daunted by the process. As an actor I understood how to be directed and so by reverse engineering I learned how to direct actors.

How important is it for filmmakers to explore their creativity and not limit themselves or their creative visions?

For myself personally this is extremely important, I know first hand that my multi-disciplinary background as an academic, a designer and a filmmaker cross pollinates into everything that I do. As a professor of design in an art and design university, I know introducing projects on the creation of performance spaces to student provides a holistic and exploratory approach to design and visual communication, covering a range of creative outcomes from defining interiors, fabrication of props, and designing of wardrobe, to name some. To leave room for exploration is where the unexpected magic happens.

J'ai Le Cafard Film paris

"My intentions come in the process of implementing the film and that part is done- I intended to tell a story about a woman’s relationship to her own depression- and having surreal elements is really an invitation for the audience to engage in very subjective ways."

If there was one piece of advice you could have gotten when you started out in filmmaking, what would it have been?

Other filmmakers are your biggest resource. Meeting like-minded filmmakers has set the level of productivity that I needed for projects off of the ground.

 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from J'ai le Cafard (Bint Werdan)?

Mostly I want people have their own insight into the film. My intentions come in the process of implementing the film and that part is done- I intended to tell a story about a woman’s relationship to her own depression- and having surreal elements is really an invitation for the audience to engage in very subjective ways.  Rather than asking the audience to see it for what it is, I am more interested to hear from the audience what the film has become to them.