Rising to the challenge

Despite working under multiple constraints, Canadian filmmaker Ruba Nadda has pulled off a remarkable feat.

In an industry where women are often not taken seriously and securing financing is a continuous challenge, Nadda was determined to make a feature film in the Egyptian city of Cairo; she became the first North American to do so.

And with her October-release Cairo Time, it seems as if Nadda’s strength and resolve has paid off.

When it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, Cairo Time was awarded the Best Canadian Feature Film and has been receiving both critical acclaim and audience praise since it opened across Canada earlier this month.

“There’s always movies that critics love and there’s always movies that audiences love, and you talk to any filmmaker and the thing that is more meaningful is when audiences get it and in this case we knew right away,” said Nadda in a phone interview with The Cord from her home city of Toronto.

“When it premiered at TIFF we could just feel that it was a real audience [film].”

The entire movie was filmed in Cairo, Egypt; Nadda spoke to the many challenges she encountered abroad, including the constant fear that they would be forced to abandon the project.

“It was just a matter of constantly jumping through hoops trying to figure out how to get through our day without being shut down. It was just crazy, I can’t believe we were able to pull it off, I really can’t,” said Nadda.

“No North American film has been able to pull off shooting in Cairo,” she added.

Nadda explained that many other projects are forced to abandon Cairo and film instead in the nearby Morocco; the lack of order and lawlessness of the state, the bureaucracy and its Islamic roots make it next-to-impossible to actually film in Cairo.

But for Nadda, filming the entire project in the authentic location was essential.

“The story takes place in Cairo, it’s a love letter to Cairo that I had to film it in that city. I think with any other movie we could have cheated a little bit … [but] where you are was just so important that we could not cheat it in this case,” explained Nadda.

“Myself and my crew and my cast, we put everything we have into the movie and I think audiences are so savvy they can see that. They can see when things are authentic.”

The romantic drama stars Patricia Clarkson who plays a magazine editor who travels to Egypt. While waiting for her husband, she has an affair with his friend, who becomes her tour guide during her stay.

Though shot abroad, the film is a Canadian production, which Nadda both wrote and directed.

Nadda explains that though the market is very competitive, the national financing system in Canada has been a great resource for directors like herself to secure funds to ensure that their production of films, like Cairo Time, can go ahead; though Nadda notes that if she could secure money from elsewhere, she would be willing to expand her production to countries other than Canada.

“I’ll always be a Canadian filmmaker because I was born in Canada and I’m very patriotic that way … but I can’t be a snob about where the money comes from. I’ll take it and I’ll make my movie.”

Interestingly enough, Nadda explains that though she faces several challenges working as a filmmaker, the biggest obstacle she has faced in the industry is her gender.

“The challenge is more being a woman than being a Canadian filmmaker,” said Nadda.

Noting that it’s hard for her as a female – and a female who looks very young, despite the fact that she is 36 – Nadda feels that it’s often difficult to get the “old boys club” to take her seriously.

“That’s always the problem I’ve had, going into meetings and being taken seriously and [convincing financers that] ‘Yes I can pull this off’ and ‘Yes we’ll have a movie at the end of the day.’”

Despite the challenges females are experiencing in the film industry, Nadda is hopeful that as women continue to produce strong movies, the mindset will evolve and more confidence will be given to her female peers.

“There’s definitely been a slow shift of change to have more women directing and getting recognition, slowly,” said Nadda.

Ruba Nadda will be speaking at the Waterloo premier of Cairo Time this Friday. There will be screenings taking place at both 7 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. at the Princess Twin Cinema.

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