Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

In life and film

After presiding over Mohamed Khan being honoured at the Gabes Film Festival in Tunisia last month, the young director Ahmed Rashwan celebrates his role model

In life and film
In life and film
Al-Ahram Weekly

When I found out from the Kotobkhan’s Facebook Page that they were holding a book launch and seminar on Mohamed Khan’s book A Director on the Road at the Dal Centre on 31 May 2016, I was quick to phone him to confirm that we would meet there.

I was on time, waiting for him in the hall which was filled with young men I had never seen before. Only critics Mahmoud Abdel-Shakour and Safaa Al-Leithi were familiar faces.

Rather un-typically, due to unusual traffic congestion downtown, Khan arrived a little late with his courageous publisher, Karam Youssef. He was especially brilliant during the seminar. A few days later, on 5 June – one day before Ramadan – I was in Khan’s house sipping my coffee and discussing a documentary project. On my way out we exchanged jokes: I tried to rope him into inviting me over for Iftar; he would only offer Suhour. Little did I know I would never see him again.

***

My relationship with Khan started in 1988, when I was a cinephile law student. Then as know I felt that Khan’s film’s were a good part of the reason behind my love of cinema. He was already a well respected filmmaker then, he had just completed his 13th film, Dreams of Hind and Camilia, and I had sent him the latest issue of the newsletter I was publishing with a friends in Alexandria, the peculiarly named Pharaohs Cinema. That issue, the fifth, was dedicated to Khan’s The Wife of an Important Man (1987), and I had not expected that such a celebrated director would be so enthusiastic about our activities – enough to offer to write in our newsletter and send us an article, “Road’s Start”, which was published in the next, June 1988 issue. At that point I still hadn’t met Khan in person, however.

It was two months later that, with my friend Hossam Noureddin, Khan invited me to bassboussa in the iconic Harun Al Rashid shop at Opera Square. (“My relationship with Rashwan started with a plate of bassboussa,” he was to say at the Dal Centre seminar.) That evening in 1988 Khan accompanied us to the station where we caught the train to Alexandria. I saw him again a few months later at the 1989 Cairo Film Festival, where I interviewed him for the newsletter and told him of my desire to join the enrol in the Film Institute once I finally graduated from the Faculty of Law that year. He was unequivocally supportive – and inspiring. And when I managed to enrol in the next year, 1990, Khan congratulated me warmly – and the next major step in my career was to work as his assistant.

As second assistant I remember standing on the location of a short film by Khan, A Day in the Life of a Happy Family – one in a series on family planning he did for the Information Authority – and feeling I wanted to be part of a bigger project of Khan’s.

My dream came true in 1992 when I joined the team of Mr Karate, again as second assistant, in the second week of filming after finishing my exams at the institute. Memorable experiences of that time include working with Mohamed Al-Sobky and Ahmad Zaki, the producer and star of the film, as well as following after this well known director who makes you feel younger than he is. Khan even asked me to act in one scene when he did not like the extra – and for the first time in my life I stood before the camera opposite Ahmad Zaki – an astounding talent who was nonetheless a strange person, difficult to deal with. Khan knew that the critics would pounce on the film, I remember, but he was already thinking about his next project.

In 1993, during my third year at the institute, I asked Khan to appear in my graduation project, called Farah’s Dreams and starring Fathi Abdel-Wahhab and Azza Bahaa. He agreed, appearing as himself together with cameraman Kamal Abdel-Aziz. In the same year I also worked on A Very Hot Day, when I learned about casting and preparation among other things. I remember Khan yelling at us in Ramsis Square, “Remove these people!” It wasn’t until 1999 that he asked me to join him as first assistant – in The Days of Sadat. It was both an honour and a challenge, which I accepted after a little hesitation out of fear. I also witnessed Khan make the bold and pioneering switch to digital filmmaking with Klephty in 2002.

When the January Revolution broke out I knew I would encounter Khan at Tahrir Square. He was a patriot who loved his country (even if he had not yet been given Egyptian nationality!) and he certainly hoped to see Egypt gain its democratic dues. Our meeting occurred the day of the first million-man demonstration on 1 February and again on Victory Friday, the first Friday after Mubarak stepped down, 18 February. He looked joyous, smiling happily, and later when I finished my documentary Born on 25 January, Khan was in several shots of the film.

The revolutionary atmosphere provided the perfect opportunity to campaign for Khan receiving Egyptian nationality. He had been born and raised in Egypt, his films had expressed the Egyptian people’s sufferings and aspirations, yet the technical detail of his father being a Pakistani had prevented him from being an Egyptian citizen. We brought the issue to the attention of the then Minister of Culture Emad Abu Ghazi, sought – and gained – the support of the media and began to collect endorsements. The campaign eventually disappeared in the annals of Egyptian bureaucracy, and hope was all but lost when the Interim President Adly Mansour issued a presidential decision to grant Khan Egyptian citizenship on 19 March 2014.

***

I didn’t see Khan again after leaving his house on 5 June. We were in phone contact, trying to arrange an appointment when Khan fell and sustained a break. I spent the Eid holidays in Alexandria, and on my return we were to meet on Thursday, then Friday, then Sunday 25 July, the afternoon he phoned to cancel in a worryingly tired voice. In the early hours of Tuesday 27 July I received the phone call informing me of his passing.

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