Director Kamla Abou Zekry campaigned for women’s rights on Egyptian screens 4 times
From scripts to screens, Egyptian director Kamla Abou Zekry has created a new world for women. She is a voice for the Egyptian and shows the trials and tribulations that accompany this title – one work at a time.
Abou Zekry’s work was a catalyst for social change; Behind the camera, she captures diversity and reintroduces it to Egyptian filmmaking as a reminder that art is a tool of self-determination.
To celebrate her remarkable achievement, Abou Zekry received the Faten Hamama Award of Excellence during the 44th edition of the CIFF on November 13th.
Abou Zekry, born January 8, 1974 in Cairo, comes from a family of artists: Her father is the renowned author Waguih Abou Zekry. After graduating from the High Institute of Cinema, she worked on several films as an assistant director, including 131 Ashghal (131 Works, 1993) before directing her first short film Qatr El Saa’a El Sadesa (Six O’Clock Train, 1999). In 2000, she co-directed the film Hello America with Egyptian director Nader Galal. Belya with Demagho El Alya (Belloa and His Sharp Mind) among others.
Through her many works, Abou Zekry presented the Egyptian woman and her reality in complex ways. She delivered women’s stories in a unique way – from mental illness to abuse: Abou Zekry has done it all. Each time, Abou Zekry has championed the empowerment of women by using her art as a platform to share their experiences, struggles and stories.
Her films have screened at both international and local festivals including the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), the Dubai International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival and also the Cannes Film Festival.
A trailblazer whose influence resonates throughout the film industry, here are some of Abou Zekry’s works written by women and directed by women for women.
Bent Esmaha Zat – 2013
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim Zaat (Self, 2013), Bent Esmaha Zaat (A Girl Named Zaat) examines the social and political winds of change. The 2013 Ramadan series focuses on Zaat, played by Nelly Karim, who is forced to adapt to the cultural and social changes in Egypt from 1952 to the January 25, 2011 revolution.
Written by Egyptian screenwriter Mariam Naoum – who also formed a haunting duo with Abou Zekry on other works – the series tackles important issues that are overlooked in Egyptian society. From discussing female genital mutilation (FGM) to oppression and social pressure: Bent Esmaha Zaat is one of the most notable television shows of the past few decades.
Bless El Nessa – 2014
in the Bless El Nessa (Women’s Prison) Abou Zekry delves deep into the hidden intricacies of the lives of women behind bars. Based on a play by the late feminist author Fatheya El-Assal, Segn El Nessa (2014), starring Nelly Karim, tells the stories of women who have suffered injustices, hardships and struggles throughout their lives and are therefore forced to carry them out life full of crime. The series is an open window on the lives of imprisoned women in Egypt: exploring abuse, domestic violence and sexism – Bless El Nessa is a triumph among Egyptian dramas.
Yom Lel Setat – 2016
Written, produced, directed by and with women, Yom Lel Setat (A Day for Women) is made by women for women. When a swimming pool at a local youth center reserves a women-only day, it becomes the talk of the town. Abou Zekry shows the multitude of problems Egyptian women face, particularly in the working class, and the struggle for male dominance and control over their lives.
Yom Lel Setat won several awards including Best Film at the African Film Festival in Morocco.
Betlou’ El Rouh – 2022
In her latest work, that of Abou Zekry Betlou’ El Roh (Backbreaking) follows Rouh (played by Menna Shalaby) whose life is turned upside down when she finds herself in an Islamic State (IS) cave in the city of Raqqa, Syria. Returning to Egypt is a distant dream for Rouh, and as she tries to escape, she eventually encounters a world full of female ISIS prisoners and renegades.
The series, which premiered in Ramadan 2022, sheds light on the daily struggles of women in IS. In a heartbreaking, captivating performance by Menna Shalaby and Elham Shahine: Betlou’ El Roh dives into an unknown world.
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