Egyptian filmmaker, Nadia Kamel was born in 1961 in Cairo, where she continues to live and work. The daughter of journalist parents with a long history of political activism, Kamel grew up in a house steeped in progressive politics and a passion for the arts and popular culture. She studied microbiology and chemistry before turning her full attention to her life-long romance with the cinema in 1990. Working as an assistant director to leading independent filmmakers in contemporary Egypt including Atteyat El-Abnoudy, Youssef Chahine and Yousri Nassrallah, Kamel has considerable experience in the making of both documentary and feature films. When Kamel first began to work on her own projects in 2000, she found that a saturated production scene left little space for new directors and unconventional topics. Eventually, she concluded that addressing the daring, often taboo topics, confined to the margins of conventional Egyptian discourse that she hoped to engage with in her projects, she would need to take the risk of producing her own low-budget films. SALATA BALADI (AN EGYPTIAN SALAD), her first film, has been produced in this spirit of indomitable independence. After nearly five years of working solo, she was joined by co-producers Films d’Ici and Ventura Films in the post-production of this family tale celebrating a century of Egyptian cosmopolitanism.
“It struck me that our history is contained in the homes we live in, that we are shaped by the ability of these simple structures to resist being defiled.” (Achmat Dangor, Kafka’s Curse)
The original inspiration for this film was simple enough: a love for my family’s stories and a wish to share them. It was a story telling project. The energy that eventually propelled me into this adventure was more complicated. I saw my octogenarian mother aging and my 10-year-old nephew growing up under a shadow of satellite dishes and a rising clamor about some inevitable clash of civilizations. And a mixture of hope and fear overtook me.
My mother’s stories, woven across the 20th century, confound any straightforward understanding of the historical events during which they were played out and are almost always an exception to the reductive homogeneity with which we are taught to view ‘History.’ In my family, religions and cultures get married when they appear to be divorcing in the global arena. In a world where my family’s identities are being squeezed into irreconcilable positions, I needed to document my history before I became apologetic about it and the myth of its extinction was realized.
But as my mother told her stories, I discovered that the film could not simply be a reclaiming of our treasured past: we found ourselves colliding with pockets of denial and silence. Without confronting the taboos of our present, my mother’s stories were reduced to self indulgence and nostalgia. And so my story telling film became a witness to a new story still in the making – a story about my family’s efforts to once more climb the wall that unjustly insists on separating our principles from our humanity.
Image: A panorama taken from the Judge’s Club in Cairo, showing the Nile as well as Geziera. The Sofitel and Grand Hyatt Hotels can be seen in the far right of the photograph. By JasmineElias – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link