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Berlinale Talent Morad Mostafa
"My first feeling was some anxiety."

Berlinale Talent Egyptian director Morad Mustafa
Berlinale Talent Egyptian director Morad Mustafa | ©Mohammadreza Mayghani

Last summer, Egyptian director Morad Mostafa screened his short film “I Promise You Paradise” (or “Issa”) at Critics’ Week alongside the Cannes Film Festival. His other short films have featured at a string of top international festivals, including Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, London, and Palm Springs. This year, Morad is visiting Berlin for the first time, to participate in Berlinale Talents, the talent development programme of the German capital’s international film festival. We met him at a café in the city to ask how he felt about being there.  

By Ahmed Shawky

What is your first impression of being at the Berlinale for the first time? 

My first feeling was some anxiety. I had never visited Berlin before, and it’s a huge city with its own layout. You get the impression that the Berlinale, despite being huge, is a tiny event compared to the size of the city. I got a bit lost until a friend, film critic Mohamed Tarek, took me on a tour so I could get familiar with the place and move between the various festival venues.  

At a lot of festivals, I’ve been able to get to know the place easily on my own, but here I felt I needed a guide or a friend to show me around. That’s not to mention the feeling of the weight of history. On every corner you turn, you find landmarks from a huge past that we’ve read about and seen in movies. 

You’ve already achieved a lot in your career. What prompted you to apply for Berlinale Talents? 

Actually, I had applied to participate in the talent programme more than once, and was unsuccessful. But I realised that the programme is for people who are already part way into their careers, so I feel like having completed four short films, now is the perfect time for me to take part. I’ve previously participated in talent programmes at the Locarno, Cannes, and Durban festivals, each of which added something to my practical experience. Taking part in this one was also an opportunity to attend the Berlinale for the first time. 

Berlinale Blogger Ahmed Shawky (left) in interview with Berlinale Talent Morad Mustafa

Berlinale Blogger Ahmed Shawky (left) in interview with Berlinale Talent Morad Mustafa | ©Maha Fagal

What is your first impression of Berlinale Talents? How is it different from your expectations before you arrived? 

My impression has changed a lot. I thought it was a week-long training programme like the Locarno Academy, but I realised that it’s more than that. The main idea is to enable participants to network with a huge number of talents from around the world, as well as take part in leisure activities and a separate set of specialised lectures for each category of participants. One thing that caught my attention was an activity called “Dine and Shine”, where we meet some of the most important figures in the international film industry. The programme so far has exceeded my expectations, and I’m looking forward to getting the most out of it. 

What is the difference between submitting a film to festivals such as Cannes and Clermont-Ferrand and participating in Berlinale Talents? And what differences have you have noticed between the festivals? 

Every festival has its own unique character and flavour. Clermont-Ferrand is the ideal place for presenting and marketing short films, especially since it’s dedicated to that genre, unlike other festivals which are more interested in feature films, which is natural. As for taking part in Cannes, it has its own glamour, regardless of the category. When “I Promise You Paradise” was selected for Critics’ Week, it boosted my profile, which I needed. 

Berlinale Talents is different. Meeting 200 filmmakers from around the world, to discuss, share ideas and form a network of relationships, is another way to benefit from being at a film festival. In any case, each festival is different from the others, depending on the city where it’s held as well as the character and taste of the audience, and their response to the films. 

Finally, how do you see the presence of Arab filmmakers in international cinema today? 

There is no doubt that Arab cinema is rapidly making huge progress. There is hardly a major film festival now that doesn’t have Arab films on its line-up. The momentum is growing from year to year, and everyone can see it.  

I feel proud to belong to this generation of filmmakers, and of the healthy competition between us to produce our best work and to express ourselves and our culture to the world. Of course, we owe credit to previous generations in Egyptian and Arab cinema who laid groundwork for what we’re doing now.