Adolescent Obsessions

Ayten Amin is an Egyptian filmmaker who made her feature-length debut co-directing Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad, and the Politician (2011). She followed it with the dramedy Villa 69 (2013) and now returns with Souad. The film follows two teenage sisters (Bassant Ahmed, Basmala Elghaiesh) living in a conservative family near the Nile Delta, and what happens when the older sibling begins living a double life online.

ASFF: What was the starting point for Souad?
I had the idea when I was making my first feature film, and it was about a certain girl that was with me at school. It was an incident that happened during school days about the relationship between two sisters. And at the time, I told my co-writer about this incident and then we started to work with it. I was telling him that I wanted the whole film to be set outside of Cairo because the film takes place in a small city and then in Alexandria. First, I wanted to make a film with protagonists who are people outside the capital, outside the big city – that’s how we wanted to present those girls. I don’t see them at all, whether on TV or cinema. In Egyptian cinema, it’s always Cairo and it’s always in the big city. It’s very unusual to go outside.

ASFF: The girls are obsessed with social media. Was this something you wanted to explore?
The thing is, I was always very interested in how social media played a role in changing the relationships we have, all of us. I think social media plays a major role for girls in small cities in Egypt because it’s like a window of freedom. It’s a place where they can play certain roles, where they can be another character other than their daily life, their conservative life. I’m not sure it’s the same for all teenage girls in the whole world. I am sure there is something similar, of course, but at the same time, it plays a much bigger role in these girls’ lives because it’s a place where they have a daily boost – where Souad can have relationships, she can flirt with guys. And at the same time, she doesn’t feel guilty about it because it did not happen. Even phone sex – she can have it but she doesn’t feel guilty about it because it did not really happen.

ASFF: How did you set about casting?
All of the cast, actually, it’s their first time acting. We did a lot of casting in small cities for the two girls. I saw more than 250 girls. There are a lot of improvisations in the scenes – we did rehearsals for five months. I was looking for girls who can have an input in the characters. We had the characters, but the way they end up in the movie is because of their input. I was looking for girls that when you watch the film, you almost feel that it’s a documentary. That’s why I wanted girls who were a bit similar to the characters.

ASFF: Did the girls relate to the social media aspects of the story?
They relate to what’s happening in the film, but I don’t think consciously. I was not talking to them about how it plays a role in their life. We were discovering together, as we were going in the rehearsals, the things that they have on social media, who they follow. I was discovering a lot about this world from them, and I think they were discovering a lot about themselves, so it was like a discovery for all of us.

ASFF: Do you wish to continue making work for both film and television?
AA: Yes, yes. So much. I’m very interested in telling stories to people, whether it’s through my own arthouse films, or whether it’s doing a TV series that’s very popular. For me, it’s always the same since I’m always telling stories that are true to me.

Souad opens in cinemas on 27 August. For more details click here.

James Mottram