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““Feathers” is the kind of film where either it passes or it breaks”

Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy, in El Gouna (Egypt), October 18, 2021.

Started in Cairo thirty-four years ago, Omar El Zohairy’s journey is classic. Institute of cinematographic studies, assistant director for a few years, notably with Yousry Nasrallah, then production of two short films, including, in 2014, just for the pleasure of quoting him: Following the inauguration of public toilets at kilometer 375. feathershis first feature film, was meditated on in Paris, during a residence of the Cinéfondation, which we thank for having incubated such an extravagant talent.

It’s not every day that a man turns into a chicken, even at the movies. From what sources, or even from what experience, do you recommend yourself to dare such a thing?

Of Metamorphosis, by Kafka, of course. And also the strange relationships I had as a child with my family, and the nightmares this situation gave me. My parents separated very early, I was 3 years old, I was an only child. As a result, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, where I learned to read by watching the letters in the credits of films on TV. I was quite a lonely child, prey to his imagination. The scene of the usher, who comes to take the furniture and the television from the foyer, was one of my recurring dreams.

One might think that the fantastic register, in a film that does not adopt the convention of the genre, is better suited to literature than to cinema, which is an art by realistic vocation. Do you share this idea?

The representation of reality is not my cup of tea. I think that cinema can also be a means of figuring out a very subjective relationship to the world. Robert Bresson’s cinema, which I put above all, is for me an excellent example. There is a style that transfigures reality, a poetics that belongs only to him.

In Egyptian cinema itself, are there any works or authors that have influenced you?

There is a whole section of Egyptian cinema which has not crossed borders and which has fueled my cinephilia. I particularly think of Crab [1990], of Khairy Bichara, and to paradise of fallen angels [1999], by Oussama Fawzi, which are works endowed with a rather rare sense of the absurd, all the more precious in the Egyptian cultural tradition.

Is there room, in Egypt today, for the existence of an independent cinema?

I think the situation in this regard has been improving over the past few years. There is a development of festivals and, of course, of platforms, which make it possible to highlight this cinema, and therefore to create an audience. A room in Cairo, directed by Marianne Khoury, who was Youssef Chahine’s producer, is also devoted to auteur cinema.

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