LAU NY partners up with the American University in Cairo’s New York Alumni Chapter to host a screening of “Cairo Drive,” featuring Director Sherief Elkatsha.
On December 7, LAU NY partnered up with the American University in Cairo’s New York Alumni Chapter to host a screening of “Cairo Drive,” featuring Director Sherief Elkatsha.
“Cairo Drive” is a documentary that explores the life of one of the world’s most populated cities – from its streets. Shot before and during the Egyptian revolution, it sheds light on the country’s collective identity, inherent struggles, and the sentiments that led to the historic changes taking place in Egypt today. It was awarded the “Best Film from the Arab World – Documentary Competition” at the 2013 Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Elkatsha was born in the United States, raised in Cairo, and currently lives in Brooklyn.
How did you come up with the concept for the film?
Someone once told me, “you can tell the personality of a nation by the way they drive,” and the idea just stuck with me. I’d been working on two other films in Egypt that were very focused (Cities on Speed – Cairo Garbage and Egypt: We are Watching You), and I wanted to zoom out, and step away from the minutiae. Driving is one of the few issues that cut across all religions and social classes. It’s everyone’s story.
How did you balance the humor of the film with the serious nature of Egypt’s domestic politics?
I had already worked on these straight-edged films, so I wanted to produce something lighter. I strongly believe that it’s easier to make people pay attention if you get them to laugh. I also wanted to expose them to the Egyptians’ innate sense of humor. At the same time, we all know people who have lost their lives on the road. So I felt it would be doing the subject an injustice if it was all funny, which is why I had it end on a serious and sobering note.
You captured, unwittingly, a rare moment in history. Did you change your film to reflect the events on the ground?
Before the protests broke out in 2011, I thought I was done shooting. When the news hit, I was in the U.S. and I knew I had to go back. Because Cairo is the main character in the film, there was no way I could NOT include these historic events. The hard part was sticking to my original storyline, and not letting the revolution hijack the film. A friend kept saying to me, “stick to your theme of driving,” and I did. The challenge was figuring out when to stop. Although I could have kept filming, I set the first elections as the cut-off date. I stopped when Morsi came to power. While the film is not about the revolution, in a way, it drives around the revolution.
What was it like filming before and after the revolution?
Before the revolution, I was a legitimate entity which really helped. I had the proper press passes, and the government had a large man accompany me wherever I went. This allowed me to film freely. After Mubarak resigned and friends of mine were being arrested, I decided my camera needed to be smaller and a lot more consumer-focused.
While the film is about Egypt, it has a broad appeal. Was that intentional?
I knew I wanted it to appeal to all audiences. It has been shown in places I would never have imagined, like theaters in Midwest. People love it, and they find the Egyptians very relatable. They’re delighted to see something non violent come out of the Middle East.
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