Dina Abd Elsalam on Passion, Art, and Inspiration

By NADA RAMADAN ELNAHLA
Director Dina Abd Elsalam

Dina Abd Elsalam is an Egyptian lecturer in Alexandria University. Her film debut, “This Is Not a Pipe” (2010), was screened in a number of international festivals and received the Arab Women Filmmakers Award from Baghdad International Film Festival in 2011. It was followed by her novel, “A Text Abandoned by its Characters” (Nass Hagaraho Abtallaho), published in December, 2012. Her second short fiction film, “Rest in Peace” (Alf Rahma we Nour), received a funding award from the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2013, won the best film award from the Rencontres de l’image film festival (2014), and was declared the winner of the Jury Prize for Short Fiction Film from the 17th Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts (3-8 June, 2014) for “its mesmerizing performances and stunning writing.” I spoke with Dina Abd Elsalam on her passion for art, gender,  filmmaking, the novel, and future projects.

Nada Ramadan Elnahla: Your film opens with two elderly sisters finding it difficult to sleep after one of them has just lost her husband. What I find refreshing in your work is the focus on the solidarity of the two sisters, a solidarity cemented by their old age. The faint memory of the late husband, and the references to issues like pension, public health insurance, and even climate change, pale in comparison. Do you identify yourself as a woman artist, and if so, do you consider yourself a feminist?

Dina Abd Elsalam: It is true that when you’re a woman filmmaker, you’re likely to be more sensitive towards women’s issues, as was the case with my first works. That is why many came to see me as a hard-core feminist. However, after you vent your initial concerns in your early works, you tend to become more inclusive. To be an artist is to embrace human suffering in its entirety, and to perceive beauty wherever you find it.

Nada Ramadan Elnahla: At the end of 2012, your debut novel, “A Text Abandoned by its Characters” (Nass Hagaraho Abtallaho), was published, and a year later, you went back to the medium of short films. Which do you consider the artistic medium that better represents you, writing or directing?

Dina Abd Elsalam: In the beginning, since I was doing so many things at the same time, I was afraid to lose track and become distracted. But the truth is, I don’t find them the least contradictory. In fact, they are quite complementary. Many artists have this tendency to concurrently participate in parallel mediums, or at least to dabble in different art forms every now and then. It is not something that you can help; it just happens. If you want a logical explanation for it, I believe this is simply due to the fact that the arts are interwoven, with extremely flimsy borders between them..

Speaking in terms of achievement, it is always more practical to focus on one area. But then I want to follow my heart and march to its beat. There are things that I want to say in writing, and others in film. There are times when I enjoy being among my students, and times when I like to write a critical piece. Whatever I do, I do out of love and passion, for these are my guiding stars. 

Nada Ramadan Elnahla: If the movie industry is not as glamorous as the layman perceives it, then navigating the independent film industry is probably more difficult. Based on your experience, what were the hardships you faced bringing your work to light?

Dina Abd Elsalam: Passion helps one, among other things, to overcome financial limitations, time constraints, hesitation, stress and overwork. But what I find really difficult about being an artist, and particularly an independent filmmaker, is that you can never really predict how your work will be received. It is like gambling; the risks are always there and you have to be prepared to take them. I hate to sound like a broken record, but once more, passion keeps me going.

Nada Ramadan Elnahla: Please tell us about your future projects.

Dina Abd Elsalam: When I have a new idea, it usually appears in the form of flashes or dreams. Then, after a while, it starts to haunt me and this is when I realize that I have to start working on it. Now, I am still in the first phase, as I have a hazy idea for a new feature film about life and drama, and a hazier one for a new novel, but will have to pull my socks up pretty soon and give the muse a chance to strike.  As Pablo Picasso once said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

This interview appears in Al Jadid Vol. 18, no. 67.

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