The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

12 July 2012

A Portait: Mayye Zayed

Image from Girls' Talk by Mayye Zayed
Mayye Zayed of Egypt, studied at various filmmaking workshops in Alexandria, where she directed The Lady Bug, Girls’ Talk, among other works. With Mohamad El Hadidi, she produced Blackout, a short documentary covering the protest rally against the murder of young Egyptian Khaled Saeed who was beaten by the police. Totally wired, Mayye Zayed takes full advantage of social media and the Internet, which she views as indispensable to exchanging with people around the world.

Mayye, you were born and raised in Egypt, where cinema is very present, what were your experiences with cinema while growing up?

While growing up I didn't really go to the cinema that often. I didn't even like watching television. So as a child I used to spend most of my time writing stories, drawing, reading novels, and building houses and playing with Lego by imagining different stories for the Lego characters. Like many children the sofas were mountains, the carpets were seas and grass, you name it! (laughter)

Girls’ Talk, a charming little film of less than 5 minutes, has been very well received and in fact, has put you in the limelight, having been written about widely and screened at several festivals. How did you come to filmmaking and what inspired you to make this film?

Filmmaking was something I thought about when I was in high school but since I loved mathematics and physics I decided to study engineering instead of going to film school. At that time I thought that by studying engineering I could develop my knowledge in math and physics and that filmmaking could always be a hobby. Now I realise that I was simply not brave enough so I chose the most secure path. While in school I had no time to do much of anything else but studying. Therefore, after graduation I was really depressed and I decided to give filmmaking a try, and I have never returned to engineering. Girls' Talk was an exercise in a filmmaking workshop I attended in Alexandria, it was the final exercise to be more precise. In fact, I got the idea when I was involved in another workshop in the American University in Cairo. One time when I was in the bathroom I noticed the many debates about anything and everything written on the inside door of the toilet stall. I've always thought that writing on toilet doors only existed in public toilets in poor areas, but it was at that moment that I realised that this practice is found everywhere among all people, all backgrounds and all classes. When you actually think about it you'll realise as well that it's an early form of social media in a way.

Is the film also about tradition and modernity? One girl is dressed in what may be viewed as tradition, and the other in westernised dressed, however, it is increasingly embraced as global fashion. What significance did you want this concept to have in the story?

The film is not about tradition and modernity in my opinion. Basically, I wanted to bring together two girls who are totally different and have them communicate with each other. I'm not judging either of them and I don't want them to judge each other. I simply wanted them to talk. However, if you see it as a film about tradition and modernity then maybe it is. I believe any film or anything actually is open to infinite interpretations.

What were the reactions of your colleagues in the film workshop to the film?

Some of them really loved the film while others didn't.

What have been some of the comments from the audience, at festivals and in Cairo?

One of the most common remarks I remember is that the viewers would have liked to read all of the written comments on the door, but in my opinion that was not the point really. What is important is that the girls communicate with each other.

You have also made a short animation film The Lady Bug. Are you also interested in this pursuing this genre? What were your experiences making this film?

I'm really interested in all aspects of filmmaking and I think I'm still learning. This is why I love to try anything and everything. I really enjoyed making The Lady Bug. It was like playing with Lego and clay as a child when I got to make a story out of it.

Black out is a short reportage that you directed with Mohamad Hadidi, documenting a protest demonstration in June 2011 after the murder of Khaled Saeed who was tortured by the police. What were you experiences when making these images and what were the responses to them?

Actually Mohamad El Hadidi and I were and still are surprised about the widespread response to Black Out. It was simply a test video for my new camera. We didn't really plan for these results. We attended the demonstration and it happened that I had the new camera with me so Mohamad asked me could he try it out. I took his camera and he took mine and we met after the demonstration. We were really angry about what happened to Khaled Saeed so we decided to edit the footage that he shot and to post the video online. I began editing the footage without any intention of having screenings of the film anywhere. We uploaded the completed film on the Internet and everybody who watched it loved it. People around the world became interested and asked us if they could screen it, especially after the revolution.

Your works in different genres demonstrate your eclectic interests. What direction do you see yourself following? Will you continue to experiment and create according to your interests or the situations that present themselves?

As I mentioned earlier I'm still learning about filmmaking and I really love experimenting. I don't really know where I am heading but recently I began to feel that I'm really passionate about cinematography so maybe I need to focus on this. It also depends on the idea or the story. Sometimes the best way to tell a certain story is through animation or documentary or fiction, etc.

I see that you are an avid user of the Internet to promote your work. Have you had positive responses and support?

I think the Internet is really great. It's great to learn whatever you need to know at the same time promoting your work. I've learned most of the things I know about filmmaking from using the Internet. In addition, I found information about most of the workshops I've attended from there. The Internet has also helped me to see lots of great work from all over the world. Moreover, I have been able to exhibit my own work there, allowing it to be seen by people all over the globe; something that I could have never done otherwise.

Works in progress? Future projects?

Right now I'm working on more than one project actually. The most important one is a feature collaborative film with five other friends. We've been working on it since 2010 and now we are finally in postproduction. We had lots of problems with funding and money in general but I'm really glad we didn't give up. You can find out more about the whole project on the blog dedicated to the film:

Interview with Mayye Zayed by Beti Ellerson, July 2012.