By Bethsheba Achitsa
Published May 23, 2010
Honyan’s Shoe, a film by Mohamed Ghazala, an animation director and lecturer at El Minia UniversityÂ in Egypt, won the Best Animation Award at the 6th Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) in April 2010. He speaks to ArtMatters.Info Staff Writer BETHSHEBA ACHITSA.
What is the story behind Honyan’s Shoe?
Honayn is a nomad who gets lost with his camel in the wide desert while looking for shoes. He finds firstly one shoe, and tries to search for the other one, but in the end he loses his camel without gathering the pair.
Though a folkloric Arabian fairytale, I modified its script and its end; in the original story about Honayn , the nomadic trader who insults a traderÂ in a city market who in turn decides to take revenge on him by stealing his camel and merchandise by putting one shoe in his way in the desertÂ and hiding the second one somewhere else. When Honayn finds the first shoe he ignores it but when he finds the second one later he decides to leave his camel behind as runs back to get the first one. It is at this time that the trader gets out of hiding and runs away with Honayn’s camel. So Honayn loses his camel and merchandise for a pair of shoes! This became a proverb meaning to return with disappointment.
Is making films just a passion for you, or are you considering becoming a full time filmmaker?
Besides being a lecturer in animation department at Minia University where I have studied animation, I also make animated films .
Though it is said that Egypt remains the power house of Arabian movies, how come that fewer and fewer films get submitted to events like AMAA?
Since I was the only Egyptian participant in AMAA 2010, I can tell you it may be due to lack of promotion of this very important event in North Africa. Just look at the list of the nominations:Â you will just find only two countries–Egypt and Algeria–from North Africa taking part in the contest though North Africa is more prolific in filmmaking compared to the rest of the continent. The quality of films from Morocco andÂ Tunisia is really good. And you still can find North African films in many international festivals. The case with Egypt is different; the oldest country in Africa which has a real industry of filmmaking since 1930s, Egypt is guilty for its absence in African cinema events. In many African festivals and events, Egypt remains largely in the shadows. This is really a shame for the country which produces around 100 feature films and hundreds of short ones every year.
The Egyptian cultural scene is more connected to the West, Europe in particular, than to the rest of Africa or the Arab world.
It is only recently that Egypt has started to pay attention to Africa, especially with regard to the waters of the River Nile. And I feel the recent discussions and issues are a healthy sign to return Egypt to its position and role in Africa.
Egyptian actors and actresses are said to prefer acting in TV series and not in feature films; what is the reason for this?
In Egypt and in the Arab world we have more than 300 TV satellite channels and you can imagine how big the market is for TV series and its popularity for the stars. Even they gain more money from TV than from film.
Why did you make an animated film without dialogue?
For a wider audience appeal; I love silent movies.
How has strict censorship in Egypt affected the film industry in the country?
I think censorship was more widespread in the past than now. With modern technological advancement of the internet, satellite and digital camera, there is no way one can hide or censor anything. Thanks to YouTube!
Young people who study film outside Egypt find it difficult to make movies in the country after they come back; why is this so and are there film schools where they could study locally instead?
I think the idea of studying abroad is less popular if you can get the knowledge of the world by just clicking the mouse of your computer which is connected to the internet. I thought a lot about further studies abroad after getting my Master’s in Egypt, but when I visited some academies abroad I found out there is no nothing I can’t access via internet or books from Egypt. Research findings are published immediately online and you can access it at the same time with those abroad. The only novelty about studying abroad is, perhaps, access to new machines.
In Egypt we have a cinema institute which was started in the 1960s to train filmmakers for the Egyptian and Arabian cinema. I feel sometimes it’s out of date, with so many old professors. The good news is that now in many Egyptian cities ‘not just Cairo’ have cultural centres and private institutions which provide classes and workshops for filmmaking; many of them with the help of European funds.
Had you worked on any other film before Honayn’s Shoe?
Since my graduation in 2001, I directed and co-directed several short animated films. Among them was the graduation film, Carnival, which handles a story of aliens from outerspace who people come to watch in a carnival; people laugh at their one-eyed faces, and the aliens laugh in the end at the two eyes of the people! I used traditional animation, much like Walt Disney was using in the past. I later made three experimental animation films using digital technology. In 2006 I co-directed the first Yemeni animated film called Salma. And in the same year I co-directed with an Ethiopian animator Bruktawit Tigabu, an animated film about the Earth called Sayari Yetu.Â It’s a Kiswahili word that means “Our Planet”. It was realised though a five-week workshop funded by UNESCO in Nairobi, Kenya.
What audience do you target for your film, Honyan’s Shoe?
Fans of animation in general. I don’t like to make something so complex . I love funny stories with some sense of humour .
How long did it take you to complete the film?
I started to think about this story in 1996 when I joined Minia University to study animation. I had transferred from the faculty of fine arts in Cairo to Minia, about 300 km south Cairo and 500 km from my home in the north of Egypt. When I heard about this animation department which had just been started in Egypt, I was so eager to study animation. I did not mind I’m far away from my home to study animation. I did the storyboard of the tale and kept it in my cupboard for next 14 years because couldn’t find the time or the budget to make the film!
When I heard that the Animation Unit of Cinema Palace of the Ministry of Culture in Cairo was offering funds for short films I was very eager to submit my project proposal to get this 1000 Euros for my film! I discovered that they needed(in this round of submissions)traditional Arabian stories while I had designed my storyboard for an ordinary lost man in the desert. So I modified my storyboard for a nomad with his camel; I returned to the original atmosphere of the story. The filmmaking took around two months.
Tell us something more about yourself.
I’m a lecturer, director of animated films, and the founder of the first chapter of the International Animated Film Association, ASIFA, in Africa and in the Arab world based in Egypt. After graduation from the Animation Department, Fine Arts Faculty, Minia University, Egypt (2001), I worked as a lecturer assistant in the same department. In 2006 I completed my MFA in animation about Animalism in Disney’s Animation.
Currently I work as full-time senior lecturer in Minia University and just obtained Ph.D degree. My research concerns experimental digital animation films.
Since I completed my under graduate studies, I have directed and co-directed many award-winning films, such as “Carnival” (2001), “Crazy Works” (2002), “HM HM” (2005),”Sayari Yetu” (2006), including the first Yemen’s animated film “Salma” in 2006 and “Honyan’s Shoe” (2009).
I participate with my films in many international festivals and workshops around the world. My mission in the last five years has been to promote Egyptian and African Animation, which is still quite an undiscovered area, even in wider European context. I organised a programme called “African Animation Panorama” which for the first time presented to the audience in many international festivals and academies, the imaginative world of animation created by authors from Africa with a special emphasis on the most important masterpiece; the first African animated film, Egypt, 1935.