The Egyptian film “Tuk-Tuk” made its international premiere at France’s Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival last Jan. 29. A promising success for Mohamed Kheidr, his director, after a long path to the cinema world.
In this short movie, Mohamed Kheidr-tells the story of Walaa, portrayed by Miss Egypt 2009 Elham Wagdi, a mother who is forced to become a rickshaw driver to support her family after she is abandoned by her husband who has illegally fled the country. At the risk of being ridiculed, harassed and unaccepted while drowning in debt she embarks on a journey to fight for her livelihood. A powerful tribute to women, courage and resilience.
I’ve read that you were not always a filmmaker, can you tell us a little bit about your career path before shifting to the cinema world?
I was so much into art as a teenager, I actually used to be a storyboard artist when I was 14, working under the table for other artists. Then I went to study fine art at University and started my career as a graphic designer which I stayed for 10 years between art direction also. Around 27, I decided to make a career shift. I felt I had the vision of the storyboard, the art of framing with oil painting, and the soundtrack in the background of my mind because I was also playing music and writing lyrics, so I decided to take it to the next step and went to the NYC film academy where I earned a diploma in filmmaking.
How did you get the idea for the script of “Tuk Tuk”?
I did work for some charities and one day out of the blue, someone was mentioning this story of a female debtor abandoned by her husband, living with her sick mother and kids to feed. She decided to buy a tuk tuk to work on it but then couldn’t pay her debts and went to prison. It burned me from inside and I decided to make a story out of it.
The main role of the movie is a strong woman struggling in a male dominated environment. Why did you choose this angle for your character?
I believe the woman is the essence of the family and the house. If the woman is gone the house is gone too. So for me supporting women is a must because it means supporting society, the community and the whole country. My mother taught me to be a good man when I was a kid, and I think this is really important to show our kids how to behave so it was important for me to show the difficulties women can encounter in their daily lives.
You choose Elham Wagdi as the main actress of the movie? What did you want from her for the role?
I casted plenty of actresses for the role. I made a camera test in my office for more than 95 people. They came here and we shortlisted 50 women and at the end and she was the one. She had the features, the eye and the look I had in my mind, even though she didn’t have the rough accent of people living in the area she lives in. I also was looking for an exhausted body to show that she was suffering. I thought she would give me a hard time in the acting because of her celebrity but she didn’t and she nailed the character straight away.
What did you want to show through this story?
In Egypt, more than 30000 women debtors are in jail and a lot of people think that those women borrowed money that they knew they won’t be able to give back and because of that, they should be imprisoned. I really wanted to show that before fast judgments, you should always look at the back story of people and not judge from a superficial point of view.
What was the most difficult part during the shooting of the movie?
The location because we shot it in a real place called Hattaba in Cairo and people over there don’t really like foreigners to come and film their life. They have seen a lot of foreign journalists filming then and then broadcast it in a negative way, so they became really suspicious and we had to spend a lot of time and money to convince them.
How did it feel to first world premier at Clermont-Ferrand short film festival?
It was a beautiful gift from above because we didn’t get selected to the Cairo film festival and I wanted the world premiere to be inside Egypt, so I was really devastated and when I got the news of the Clermont-Ferrand film festival, it was a wonderful surprise.
Who are the famous filmmakers who inspired you in your career?
Luc Besson for sure, with Leon because it is the film that has the most feeling for me. Maybe Scorcese als, o and believe it or not, I also love Silvester Stallone when he directs.
Already thinking about new projects?
Yes, I’m already working on “Richter”, a project talking about an earthquake that hit Cairo in 1992. It will be a movie that follows different groups of people and show how this experience of near death transformed their lives, at a time where there was no phone and no geolocalization.