Youssef Shahin Tackles New Film, Plight of Peasants
He may be 75 years old and seriously ill, but Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Shahin is forging ahead with a new film while also wielding his camera to fight a battle on behalf of peasants in Cairo.
His screen musical "Lights, Camera, Action" reveals the personal sacrifices artists make by telling the story of a "dangerous love affair" between a singer and an arriviste, Shahin said in an interview with AFP.
The Franco-Egyptian production stars Latifa, a Tunisian diva who has a "prodigious voice that I'll make people rediscover," Shahin said at the Cairo offices of his production company Misr International Films (MIF).
The script, a product of his own ideas and those raised during brainstorming sessions with friends, is designed to make people reflect on the harsh demands of artistic commitment.
"The film shows how, when someone is devoted to his art, the commitment becomes total, without the possibility of straying from it," the bespectacled Shahin said.
"When one makes such a choice, one cannot say: 'I also want to make money, have a private life'. It's a very hard commitment," Shahin said.
The film is produced by MIF and the French firm Onion, represented by Shahin's longtime collaborator Humbert Balsan, with help from the French television stations Canal Plus and France 2.
The Paris-based National Center of Cinematography (CNC) is also involved in the production of the musical which is due to hit movie screens in Cairo in September.
"I will be in France in July for the mixing. The Venice film festival is interested, but I no longer put my films in competitions. I have been a prize winner. Time now to give others a chance!" Shahin said.
In 1997, he won a special prize at the Cannes film festival for "Fate," about how religious extremism stifles intellectual life, as well as for his life work which includes films like "Central Station," dating back to 1958.
The frail-looking and emaciated Shahin, whose eyes nevertheless sparkle with energy, has to watch his step after having been hospitalized frequently in the last few months for high blood pressure and a pulmonary edema.
The former chain smoker has kicked the habit and also tried to cut down on his workload, but he is far more active than just turning out his new film.
He joined a rally in October on behalf of the Palestinian uprising against Israel and is now rushing to defend peasants against government plans to expel them from Dahab island in Cairo for an unspecified development project.
He added that after ending his last hospitalization a week ago, he visited the peasants of Dahab.
"I'm going to make a documentary film to denounce both the people and the system which allow people to be thrown out of their homes," Shahin said.
Shahin even compared Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Ebeid to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is hated in Egypt and other Arab countries for his bloody past and policy of settlements on Palestinian land.
"What is the difference between Sharon and our prime minister? Both are in the process of driving people from their land," he said.
The island of Dahab (which means Gold in Arabic), where 55,000 peasants live, has remained as farm and grazing land, despite the intensive urbanization of the rest of Cairo, where 16 million people live.
"I don't want to see skyscrapers in the middle of the Nile. This island is a lung for the city," Shahin said -- AFP
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