Arts & Culture

Meet Hayat Aljowaily: Young Egyptian Filmmaker with a Passion for Social Justice

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Meet Hayat Aljowaily: Young Egyptian Filmmaker with a Passion for Social Justice

Photo courtesy of Hayat Aljowaily.

At only 22, young Egyptian Hayat Aljowaily, a published filmmaker with an international network is on a mission to change the world through the arts.

Aljowaily’s love for filmmaking professionally only blossomed in late high school, but she has always been a fan of consuming the medium.

“Growing up, I was always completely fascinated by movies to an obsessive point. I just loved the magic of going into the movie theater and escaping into a parallel world,” Aljowaily told Egyptian Streets.

Some of her favorite films as a child were Romantic Comedies and musicals including Grease and High School Musical.

“Honestly, when I was younger, I had trouble coming out of it, like I watched Peter Pan once and literally was sad for hours because I couldn’t fly, or I watched a Winnie the Pooh movie where Tigger lost his family, and I was crying non stop after the film ended because he couldn’t find his family. I just was enticed by these parallel universes,” Aljowaily added.

At the end of high school, she started practicing a lot of social activism, where she realized the power that the arts, film in specific, had in being a window to other worlds to other social situations. She noticed that films got people emotionally involved in stories that aren’t similar to their own.

“I definitely wasn’t the kind of kid who ran around with a camcorder in the 90s filming stuff, and I also wasn’t into film in the sense that I didn’t necessarily watch any of the classics like the Godfather. That wasn’t me, but I was very interested in a lot of other art forms,” she said.

Aljowaily did theatre growing up as well as dance, visual arts, music and singing. She said that film was the last artistic avenue for her to explore.

“I made a couple of very stupid videos in like Middle School for classes, when I was younger, but the first time I actually made something that can be counted as a short film was in university in my third year,” she added.

Hayat on the set of Maybe Next Time. Photo courtesy of Lula O’donnell.

An International Education

Having lived all over the world, Aljowaily gained a worldview that was only cemented when she pursued a Dual Bachelor’s degree in both France and New York, through Columbia University and Sciences Po.

“When I was applying for university, I already knew I wanted to study film but at the same time I was very involved in social activism and focused on economics and the social sciences. I was also torn about where to be, I graduated high school in the US and was unsure about whether I wanted to stay there, go back to France, or potentially go to the UK, but I even applied in China, in Spain and the Netherlands,” Aljowaily told Egyptian Streets.

So when she found the Dual BA program, she felt she had hit the jackpot, as she was able to pursue the social sciences in her first two years at Sciences Po in Menton, France, and then pursue her passion for film in Manhattan, New York at Columbia University.

“I highly recommend the program to anyone who’s interested in having this experience where you have different approaches, both in terms of what and where you’re studying. The Sciences Po campus I was on had 200 students in a town in the south of France in the middle of nowhere. And then we moved to Manhattan, where there’s lots of people and lots to do so it was a great shock, but one with many lessons learnt,” Aljowaily added.

As for her life post-graduation, she still plans on maintaining the international lifestyle in the long run.

“I have a piece of my heart in many places around the world. For now, I’m probably going to be based in Paris but I definitely hope to kind of have a foot between Paris and Cairo, and potentially New York as well,” Aljowaily added.

Aspirations for the Future

While she has not yet produced a professional feature film, she’s worked on multiple non-student films including Tallahassee, directed by prominent New York-based Lebanese director Darine Hotait who Aljowaily was assistant director for.

Hayat on the set of Tallahassee. Photo courtesy of Em Joseph.

Aljowaily also worked on Naila, a short film showcased in the Film and Feast festival in Brooklyn, NY. She also created Maybe Next Time, a short student film.

Between internships at Maven Pictures in New York and Mediawan in France, freelance and part time jobs on the side, she has been busy around the clock, with little time for creating independent productions.

“I have quite a few things in store, though. Over the lockdown period, I worked on a short documentary called While the Flowers Bloomed, which is basically kind of a reflection. As time went by, and nature just continued on with its normal cycle, our lives are on pause. It’s a collection of recordings of phone calls I had with friends of mine and family of mine around the world alongside vignettes of what life looked like in Belgrade, Serbia during the lockdown,” she said.

The production is a part of a web series she produced called Days Within about the pandemic.

She has also worked on Find My iPhone – a romantic comedy based in New York, with a Lebanese international student as a protagonist, that was recently a finalist for the treatment competition for the National Film Festival for Talented Youth.

“I’m also Associate Producer for a short film and musical titled Happily Ever After that’s directed by Farida Zahran, an incredible young Egyptian director. We were supposed to shoot that in April, but it’s been pushed forward, obviously, because of the pandemic,” she added.

An Indie Mission with a Big Screen Vision

Aljowaily aspires to using film and media as a vessel for promoting cultural understanding, social cohesion and relating people to stories that they would not usually hear in their close circles. She’s specifically keen on portraying North African and southwest Asian narratives, especially relating to gender issues.

“My big goal is to promote Arab and North African cinema around the world but also bringing forward important and authentic stories about migration and identity while making them accessible and palpable to wider audiences,” Aljowaily said.

Aljowaily’s main mission is to reach as wide and far as possible. “I’m not into making movies that only a few people in the film festival here and there are going to see, I want to make movies that are going to touch and emote people around the world in big theaters,” she said.

Hayat on the set of Maybe Next Time. Photo courtesy of Lula O’donnell.

HAYAT RECOMMENDS

Favorite Egyptian Producers: Mohamed Hefzy is the goal. It’s just so inspiring and incredible to me how he’s managed to bring out the best talents in the country and make all these incredible movies that have really made waves around the world. I also want to be a producer. So, he’s the most inspiring Egyptian producer right now.

In that same vein, definitely Dina Emam. It makes me incredibly happy to see another young Egyptian woman producer out there. To see the work that she’s been able to do at such a young age and the new company that she opened, definitely also someone that I aspire to work with.

There’s Marianne Khoury who I don’t even think I need to give an introduction to. But she’s absolutely lovely, so sweet, helpful and great energy to have around.

Favorite Egyptian Director: Amr Salama. I have watched Sheikh Jackson more than 4 times, and have been anxiously awaiting the release of Paranormal!

Favorite Egyptian Films: I love Gharam w Intekam, I saw it for the first time in my very first Arab Cinema course. three years ago, and there’s something so magical about the way that it’s so dark and yet filled with love stories, and I’m generally a fan of the melodramas of the 30s-50s in Egypt. I recently saw Hadootaa Masreya, Youssef Chahine, fell in love with the visuals. And just how personal and intimate the film is while still being kind of absurd. Growing up, the stuff that really marked me was kind of like all the Ahmed Mekky and Ahmed Helmy films like Aassal Eswed for example.

Favorite Egyptian Actor: I would love to work one day with Ahmed Malek because I love the way that he connects to the craft of acting and looks at it way more really as an art form than as something to do to get famous, which I think can be a problem in Egypt, but also around the world.

Management: All of the team at MAD Solutions, especially Meriame Deghedi, if I hadn’t worked with them, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today for sure. Also, all the people who work for El Gouna Film Festival; Bushra Rozza, and Intishal Al Timimi, because what they’ve done with the festival in two or three years is just mind baffling.

Hayat on the set of Maybe Next Time. Photo courtesy of Lula O’donnell.

You can find Hayat on social media at:

Instagram: @xhayatyx 

Website: https://hayat-aljowaily.com


This article is part of our ongoing initiative, Spotlight Sundays where we hope to celebrate different Egyptians from the community.

If you’d like to be featured or have any other enquiries, please email us at: [email protected]

 

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Arts & Culture Reporter. Writer and multidisciplinary artist with a passion for podcasting and theatre. Pre-pandemic, can be spotted getting work done from a Cairo coffee shop, train in Delhi or a New York subway. Intra-pandemic, works at a sunny window with lots of iced coffee.

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