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TorinFilmLab 2012 Project Highlights: Egyptian Ahmed Maher's 'In Which Land You Die'

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 28, 2012 1:48 PM
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One of a handful of upcoming projects selected for the TorinFilmLab (a year-round, international lab that supports emerging talents from all over the world, working on their first and second feature films, through training, development and funding) is Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Maher's In Which Land You Die.

The film's darkly humorous story goes... Reyad, an Egyptian illegal immigrant, has been living in Italy for twenty years. He has changed his identity and survives by committing petty crimes. He has never gone back home and has not contacted his mother in years. He finally calls her and finds out she is very ill. Feeling guilty, Reyad arranges for her to come to Italy for treatment. She arrives at Rome airport and drops dead at the immigration desk. Reyad is devastated. His illegal status means he cannot claim her body but knows she would want to be buried in Egypt. He decides to steal her body from the official safekeeping and return her there. Reyad makes a deal with an old gangster friend: The mafioso will help arrange the trip to take the corpse back to Egypt in return for Reyad’s bone marrow. A complex power play builds between the two. Meanwhile, Reyad meets Paloma, an illegal immigrant from Latin America, who earns money being a surrogate mother. A romance ensues. Reyad eventually “pays the price” to take his mother back inside a container on a cargo ship...

To reveal anymore would be to spoil the film... as if the above doesn't already reveal enough.

But the story definitely interests me, although I'm not familiar with Maher's past work to say what exactly we can expect. Although a little digging revealed that his first film (The Traveller, about 3 crucial days in one Egyptian man's long life) was an official competition selection at the 2009 Venice Film Festival, where it was nominated for 2 awards, and won 1. It's unfortunately not a film that's available here in the USA - at least, I couldn't find it on the usual online rental and purchase sites.

I'll keep searching for it, however, because I'd like to check it out myself.

As for his upcoming second film, In Which Land You Die, Maher says that the film is in the final stages of a script re-write, and that he's met potential Italian co-producers, 3 of them being very interested in the project. He has also met with several Italian regional funds to see how his project can benefit from the financial support and tax incentives in Italy. 

The budget? 3 million euro, which is almost $4 million. 35% of that amount has already been secured, which is great! Apparently, that's enough for principal photography to begin. But obviously, raising the full some from the start is ideal.

In his own words, here's the filmmaker talking about his motivation for the story:

After spending a lot of time in the West, mostly Italy, I found myself formed by both cultures which drove me to constantly travel between both countries, Egypt and Italy. I always felt conflicted about where I should live, as while I was staying in one place, I missed something from the other. Many times, while walking the streets of Rome, I would find myself seeing faces I felt I knew from Egypt, sometimes I would move from a square in Naples, imagining myself heading to a street in Cairo. This is a concept that I will extensively explore in a visual manner in the movie. I have thought about the notions of cultural identity and belonging often and became convinced that I was a product of both cultures, of both societies, of the similarities and the contrasts between them. This is how I began thinking about the main character. I did not want him to be a defeated oppressed immigrant like they are often depicted in both western and eastern movies. So I chose for him a deeper dilemma: he is facing himself, that inner conflict.

It's a project that's now on my watch list, so any future updates worth reporting, will be.

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