Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Features
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The woman behind the camera

Henriette Bornkamm, director of the documentary film, was born in Freiburg, Germany, in 1976 and studied filmmaking in Berlin. The present film is her first full-length documentary, and she has a second planned on women and different religions

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Henriette Bornkamm

When did you first meet Felix?

In 2009, I was researching topics for documentary films when a friend told me about Felix. She was so excited that I decided to meet him. During this first meeting his father told me he was going to travel to Geneva with Felix the following week to meet with Al Gore and Kofi Annan. I decided to take the risk to join them with a camera team. Al Gore didn't show up, but luckily Kofi Annan attended. With the material we shot that day in Switzerland, I was able to convince the German public TV channel ARD to fund the project. I was very lucky: I met Felix just a few months before he became very popular in Germany.

What attracted you the most to him and made you direct a film about him?

I really admire his energy. Felix works day and night for his project, if the workload from school allows him. He has a strong faith in what he does, which is very impressive. And he is really fearless. He is used to give presentations and that's why he is able to speak freely in front of the UN.

What was your experience of making the film?

One of the challenges in filmmaking is to believe in the project until it is funded and until it becomes reality. In my case, it took three years and during this time many things happened. All the female protagonists I wanted to shoot suddenly decided not to be in the film, and it was very difficult to find one until I found Fardosa. The money ran out, and sometimes we faced difficulties in the team.

On the other hand, there were many blessings: I was able to meet great people through this project. I was able to travel to New York, Kenya and Iraq -- all places I had never imagined I would go to. So, all in all it was a great experience. The added value for humanity is obvious: the film shows positive examples of young people who fight for goals that are bigger than themselves. If every human being would think about society instead of thinking just about personal advantages, the earth would be a better place.

What was the impact of Fardosa and Roman on you when you met them? How did you find them?

Finding Fardosa was a major task. In May 2010, I was writing hundreds of e-mails to NGOs asking if they could recommend someone who was underprivileged and nevertheless a social leader. People told me I was looking for a person who doesn't exist and that I should stop seeing the world through a narrow-minded eurocentric worldview. Finally, in May 2011 one woman from Kenya replied that her daughter's best friend would fit my concept. This was Fardosa.

Getting in touch with Roman was easy. I had asked the Hamburg-based Kurdish filmmaker Ravin Asaf if he knew an interesting child for my film, and one week later he suggested Roman. I was scared to travel to Iraq since it is not the safest place on earth. My first impression of Roman was that he is a natural leader. He is very sympathetic and very modest, but nevertheless people listen to what he says. After spending 10 days with him, I felt that he was somehow sad and lonely, a child whose childhood was stolen by the terrorists.

Each one is raised in a different culture. How does this affect each one's personality?

All three have similarities and all three have different cultural influences. All three go to very good schools. Felix goes to an international school; Fardosa got a scholarship for a private high school because she is one of the best students in her class; and Roman's education is state-funded.

Felix is the most privileged of the three. He was born in 1995, just a few years before the Internet in Germany became very popular, so he is a real digital native, while Roman and Fardosa are from countries where only a few people have access to the Internet. Environmentalism is generally a big topic in Germany, and as Felix's father is a social entrepreneur, he has somehow adopted a "yes we can" mentality.

Fardosa is Somali. She is a Muslim and much of her inner strength and pride seem to come out of her faith and her belief in a bright future. Roman is very mature for his age. The way he talks shows that he has reflected on many serious topics. His character is shaped by the experience of war and terror.

What was your reason for visiting Egypt in October 2011? What led you to stay?

I remember how the Arab Spring surprised us in February 2011 while we were filming at the UN in New York with Felix and how deeply I was touched by the Egyptian people fighting for a better society. Somehow I had gained a special interest in these people through the film, and I thought it might be great to go to Egypt and do a new project about young Egyptians. So when I had a job offer to teach storytelling at the German University in Cairo, it was like a dream come true.

Teaching storytelling is really fun for me, since storytelling is my passion and I have learnt many things about the lives of the young Egyptians. I am still in Egypt because I am enjoying it. I also have not yet achieved my goal of making a documentary about young Egyptians, because I had the chance to do a film in Uganda and the day has only 24 hours! I hope my film will be translated into Arabic soon, because I plan to show it in Egyptian schools.

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