Egyptian Filmmaker Talks About His Latest Documentary

Tamer El Said’s “In The Last Days of the City” captures a memory of Egypt


Award-winning filmmaker Tamer El Said stopped by Mason on Wednesday, Oct. 10 for a film screening of “In The Last Days of the City,” followed by a Q&A portion with the audience.

The event was sponsored by Film and Media Studies (FAMS), Film and Video Studies (FAVS), Global Affairs, Middle East Studies, Modern and Classical Languages and Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies.

Tamer El Said’s “In The Last Days of the City” tells the fragmented story of a 35-year-old filmmaker, Khalid, who is simultaneously impacted by both the tenderness and uncertainty of living in downtown Cairo.

Khalid’s friends living in Beirut, Baghdad and Berlin send him video footage of their lives to help Khalid as he continues searching for self-discovery and answers within himself.

Filmed from 2008 to 2010, El Said’s part-documentary, part-fictional memoir is almost an unintentional prelude to the Egyptian revolution of 2011, in which former President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down.   

“The film was about trying to capture a city in a moment when we feel that there is a huge change,” El Said said.  “The whole production happened with a kind of foresight.”

“We [Khalid and I] both have this feeling that we want to capture something of a world that will collapse very soon, and we want to keep a memory of it.“ El Said said. “[Khalid] has this urgency of documenting things. Because he feels they will not last. And very soon they will not exist.”

Upon release of the film, the Egyptian government banned it from being screened in Egypt, citing that it had not received proper permission to be shown.

“I said when my film [was] banned, I said it’s an honor that I cannot claim,” El Said said. “I wish that my film [would be] very annoying to this regime, but in fact it wasn’t.”

El Said noted how banning the film brought more attention to it, which is something he questions.

“It happened that my film was well-received,” El Said said. “It happened that my film was banned in my country. Then, it was invited everywhere. I never knew, is it because it was a good film or because it was banned? I still don’t know.”

El Said’s film took him 10 years to put together and he noted how at the time there was high demand for informative films explaining the Egyptian Revolution.

“There was a market that was created because there was a demand of people who live thousands of miles away from Cairo [who wanted] to know what’s going on there,” El Said said.  “And they don’t have time to follow the news [in Egypt] every day but they want a film that gives them the Egyptian Revolution in 90 minutes. But the revolution cannot be squeezed in 90 minutes. It’s a whole context that’s very multilayered and complex and you cannot brief it.”

The film’s tone of ambiguity in relation to Khalid’s life and the political situation captures the mood of Cairo during that time period. “In The Last Days of the City” concentrates focus on an area in downtown Cairo.

“The special thing about this neighborhood is that it’s where everybody meets and it’s also a negotiation area,” El Said said. “It’s where everyone has a different interest, and it’s interesting how you build this tension inside [the city].”

Throughout it all, El Said is conscientious of the role he has as a filmmaker to create something groundbreaking and the responsibility he carries to make sure he serves his films and not vice versa.

“It’s actually beautiful, because this moment of facing yourself gives you strength,” he says.