As New York’s African Diaspora Film Festival brings Khaled El Hagar’s to a wider audience, producer and film professor Roger Shannon profiles the Kings Heath-based film director.
Khaled El Hagar is that rare thing - a Birmingham based international feature film director.
Acknowledged in his home country Egypt as the most controversial movie maker of his generation, Khaled lives quietly for half of the year in Kings Heath where he has established himself as the city’s leading auteur.
Since his move to Birmingham in the late 1980s, Khaled has been a major figure on the film scene in the city, presenting his new films in the then annual Birmingham International Film Festival, picking up awards at the same festival and passing on advice and tips to younger film makers.
Recent years have seen a renewal of support for his film making ambitions in Cairo, where he has been filming almost back to back for the past few years on a range of multi-award winning movies, and re-establishing himself as an A-list director in the Arabic market.
It was his London set and UK-financed film Room To Rent that brought Khaled’s talents to the attention of the international film world, a film that, when Head of Production at the BFI, I had the pleasure of developing with Khaled and then of helping producer Ildiko Kemeny to raise the finance.
The Film Consortium backed the film, with Julie Baines as executive producer.
Since then Khaled El Hagar has built his artistic career shared between his native Egypt and the UK.
It is the depth and the range of his films that resonate with audiences, as he shuttles between cultures and genres with an ease and a versatility, taking in comedies, dance films, popular musicals and contemporary dramas with a social cutting edge, and all filmed with Khaled’s palate of “kitsch bazaar”.
A mini season of his films was presented at MAC, Birmingham’s independent cinema in 2005 but this is the first time that this Egyptian/British director has been honoured at an international Film Festival with a retrospective of his major films.
It is to their credit that the New York African Diaspora Film Festival is the first to do so.
With 23 national and international film awards already to his name, Khaled El Hagar is without doubt one of the most important Egyptian filmmakers of the past two decades and he brings that creative background to the fore as the Filmmaker in Residence at the 17th Annual African Diaspora Film Festival.
Running from November 27th - December 15th 200 in various venues in New York, the festival is showing the following films of Khaled El Hagar: Kobolat Masroka/Stolen Kisses, Mafeesh Gher Keda!/None But That, Hob El Banat/Women’s Love, Room To Rent, Little Dream, A Gulf Between Us, Elements of Mine and You Are My Life.
Kobolat Masroka/Stolen Kisses focuses on nine Egyptians in their 20s faced with common but taboo subjects in Egypt: family conflicts, unemployment, sexual frustration, prostitution and violence.
By keeping an Egyptian voice accessible to the larger audience, this 2009 production kicked off many heated debates in Egypt, including death threats posted on some websites.
Mafeesh Gher Keda!/None but That!, a 2006 musical, follows the life of a single mother of three, who are struggling and dreaming of riches.
The efforts of the mother Nahed bear fruit when her youngest daughter Dina succeeds in the glamorous world of show business.
But this success breeds jealousy, in-fighting and tension among the family members.
Loosely based on Brecht’s The Deadly Seven Sins, None But That! exposes current desires for instant fame and wealth, at whatever the cost.
Hob El Banat/Women’s Love is a romantic comedy made in 2004 that both won seven major awards at the 2004 Egyptian National Film Festival and went on to become a major commercial success.
It is the story of three half-sisters brought together by the death of their mutual father.
While Cairo-raised Nada is a shy, deeply romantic soul longing for Mr Right and Alexandria-raised Ghada doesn’t like men, London-raised and educated university professor Ro’aya is looking for love now that her professional life is well established.
The three - according to their father’s will - must live together for one year in Cairo before they can inherit his considerable estate.
At first each claims her own space, but gradually as they get to know one another they discover how much they have in common.
A Gulf Between Us is a 1994 drama in English set in 1991 London during the Gulf War.
When Hassan, an Arab student and part-time baker rents a room from Jewish Ruth in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, he is not looking for love but fall in love, he does.
The outbreak of the Gulf War, in which forces allied to the United States of America fight Iraqi president Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait, makes things difficult for them.
This 50-minute film caused a storm in the Egyptian press when it was shown in Cairo in 1995 and Khaled El Hagar, who not only made but also played the main role, was accused of promoting normalisation with Israel and could not go back to Egypt until 2003.
Room To Rent, produced in the UK with American actress Juliette Lewis and French actor Said Taghmaoui, revolves around a young man’s pursuit of life, liberty, and a green card.
Ali, a young Egyptian screenwriter, is determined to succeed in London where he has been a student. He loves the artistic and political freedom, the colours, the music, and the individualism.
But he has little money, his student visa is about to expire and he has been thrown out of his lodgings. He moves in with a succession of eccentric and colourful London flat-mates: Mark, a photographer with a very individual style; Linda, a young, blonde, very sexy model and Marilyn Monroe impersonator, played by Juliette Lewis; and Miss Stevenson, who is convinced that Ali is the reincarnation of her long dead Egyptian lover.
All the while Ali is in search of an elusive British visa which unrepentantly leads to finding the love of his life. Room To Rent, a comedy drama in English made in 2001, was the first feature by writer/director Khaled El Hagar, who at the time was himself an Egyptian immigrant living and working in London. It has won several awards, four of them for Best Film.
Made in Germany in 2004 by Khaled El Hagar and Norbert Servos, Elements of Mine - a 20-minute modern drama dance in English - examines passion and sensuality for any age and in any sexual combination.
Khaled will be presenting all his films to the festival’s international audiences, and introducing them to his distinctive film making style dubbed “the Pedro Almodovar” of Arabic cinema.
The Rider Hagar family from Birmingham will be with him – his wife Janice Rider, an experienced and talented costume designer with many films and BBC dramas to her credit, and their son, Adam, a talented young actor and musician.
Both Janice and Adam were involved in the shooting of the Screen WM-backed pilot for Khaled’s Birmingham set film Sex For Happiness.
The Rider Hagar family are almost a film studio in their own right.
A film studio in Kings Heath? Now there’s a story to tell the Big Apple about.