Its protagonists are gay men, and we see their problems facing up to persecution and discrimination, particularly in the wake of the 2001 witch-hunts against them, the most famous being the Queen Boat arrests in which 52 alleged homosexuals were tried in a national security court.
Although Egyptian cinema, since its inception, has presented many homosexual characters, most of these have been comic devices inserted to generate a few cheap laughs. The only serious portrayals of homosexuality have been through a few minor characters in a handful of Egyptian films like Salah Abou Seif's The Bathhouse of Malatily (1973), Youssef Chahine's Alexandria... Why? (1978), Asmaa Bakry's Mendiants et Orgueilleux (1991), Yousry Nasrallah's Marcides (1993), and Marwan Hamed’s The Yacoubian Building (2007). However, these were presented in a manner so subtle, merely hinted at, to be detected by the initiated.
All My Life tells the story of people whose story remains unheard. It is a tale of difference, of those who have been silenced and forced to disappear. The movie embodies the 1970s feminist quote, "The personal is political." Even now, human rights activists expect gays and lesbians to wait until other, "more important" issues are resolved. But piecemeal freedom is no freedom at all; and the most important step towards it is making sure the oppressed have a voice.
The title "Toul Omri/All My Life" is based on the title of an Egyptian song from the 1930s, "Toul Omri Ayesh Liwahdi" ("All My Life I've Lived Alone") by Mohamad Abdel-wahab . The song speaks of loneliness while among family and friends, and the search for a soulmate. Other than being the central metaphor for the film, the song (played briefly during the movie) also harks back to the spirit of an age, not so long ago, when society was more liberal and the spread of political fundamentalism had not yet encroached onto the private sphere.
All My Life was shot against overwhelming odds: a no-budget film shot on location in Cairo and California, it took three years to finish and depended on volunteer work and the assistance of the community. Shooting in the street, in borrowed locations and their own homes, the cast and crew of the movie doubled as key grips, boom operators, set builders and refreshment servers. The result was a team effort in every sense of the word.
Despite the risks (all the Egyptian scenes were shot guerrilla-style due to government restrictions on street filming), it was absolutely indispensable for the film to be shot both in Egypt and California. While emigration is a theme of the movie, escape is not a solution: those who are different should not be harassed into abandoning their homeland. By utilizing Arab talent at home and in the diaspora, we hope to spark a dialogue spanning continents and bringing crucial issues out into the open.
According to the film's director/screenwriter Maher Sabry:
"We all build fences around ourselves to protect ourselves from pain; that's why it's easy, when we see others treated unjustly, to assume that they must have done something to deserve punishment. It's especially easy if they believe differently from us or live a lifestyle we don't approve of. Then it comes around to us, and others say the same.. and so on until we all know what it feels like to be oppressed."
With the rise of the wave of conservatism in Egypt and the Arab world in recent years, artists have become increasingly unable to tackle a number of subjects that were dealt with in Egyptian cinema in the past. Last year, following the screening of Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building, 112 members of the Egyptian Parliament - one-quarter of the total - signed a petition demanding the removal of the scenes portraying the only homosexual character in the film. And yet, the portrayal of the gay character in Yacoubian Building is tame compared to the one in The Malatili Bathhouse in 1973, more than thirty years earlier. All My Life, a product of guerrilla filmmaking, breaks every taboo imposed by Egyptian censorship, sexual, social and political. According to the director,
"Censorship is a knife in the heart of any artistic movement. The censor treats me like a child, telling me, as a person, what to read, what to hear, what to watch, and therefore how to think, how to express myself. All this is done in the name of "protecting the public interest" but in fact it is "protecting power-holders and political interests. Censorship only flourishes in countries with corrupt and tyrannical governments afraid of a rise in public awareness; it guarantees the maintenance of the status quo. Just as the Internet revolution has opened the door to people to express themselves uncensored, so the digital filmmaking revolution has given me the same opportunity. I knew from the start that my movie would never officially be allowed a public screening; but I'm confident that people will see it, because where there is corruption, video piracy is all the rage. When the festivals are over, it'll be for sale on the sidewalks like all banned films. This way, I know I may not recoup the money I spent on the film, but at least I'll have achieved self-fulfillment."
Director/screenwriter Maher Sabry "was the first director to portray gay and lesbian love in lyrical and sympathetic manner on stage, in fact in the Egyptian media as a whole..." (Arts and the Islamic World, vol.35). His work as a gay activist for Egyptian LGBT, including alerting the international community to the notorious Queen Boat arrests of 2001, and helping its victims, earned him the Felipa de Souza Award, in 2002, from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). He has made several short films and a documentary. "All My Life" is his first feature length.
For more information, or an interview with the director, please email Pakinam Refaat, at email@example.com
EUFS was founded in 2005 by a group of artists and intellectuals seeking a creative outlet away from the restrictions of censorship and conservative production values. EUFS is open to new members, both independent filmmakers and supporters of creative freedom. If you'd like more information about EUFS, or are interested in joining the group, please e-mail Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Movie's web site: http://maraiafilm.com/eufs/allmylife.html
Photo Gallery: http://maraiafilm.com/eufs/images.html
Press release in Arabic: http://maraiafilm.com/eufs/arprelease.html