Tsvika Oren interviews Abdelrahman Dnewar and Saad Dnewar, the winners of the ITFS Arab Animation Forum, for their project Traitors of the Eyes.

At the Arab Animation Forum during the 26th International Festival of Animated Film Stuttgart (30 Apr - 5 May 2019) emerging directors, animation artists and producers from the Arab World and Germany meet to team up and work on co-productions and the development of animation film projects together. In 2019, eight emerging producers from Germany and ten animation artists and directors from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Su-dan have been selected and invited to come to Stuttgart.

The project Traitors of The Eyes  by  by Abdelrahman Dnewar and Saad Dnewar (Egypt), as presented in Stuttgart 2019, is an autobiography live-action/animation film, though it’s the personal story of the twin co-directors of the film A story about families everywhere in the world and secrets, it revolves around the peculiar relationship between twin brothers growing up in a very conservative Muslim family, and shocking truths they unravel about one another after the death of their mother. The mother is the mirror that reflects their inner conflicts and she lingers in their existence after her death. It’s a split narrative that explores each twin’s perspective of the mother's death and his brother, and how this changed their lives forever.

The Arab Animation Forum jury which awarded the film "was moved by the project" and described it as  "a story of loss, identity and secrets, a personal and yet universal exploration that says a lot about families around the world. It uses strong symbolism to convey a moving message. We know how challenging this will be for the creators, but we trust that their story needs to be told".

In addition, Abdelrahman says that when he and Saad started working on the film, they decided to share both their recent and their old diaries and recollections about their mother. This led to discovering that each of them had very different observations and memories. Since there was no filmed documentation of their mother and their childhood, they chose to use animation, mixing it with “short live-action sequences which will be the realist part of the film. where everything is plain and static and devastating.”

Both Abdelrahman and Saad Dnewar answered to questions by Tsvika Oren:

TO: What is your background?

AD- SD: We're Egyptian identical twin filmmakers. We started off as student engineers in 2012 in the University of Mansoura (a small town in Egypt)  [Mansoura is in the north of Egypt. Established 1219. Population: 960,423 (2012)].  Then during our first year,  we decided to drop out realizing we had zero passion about it. We signed up for an online filmmaking workshop by the Ghetto Film School, and we began secretly skipping classes to work on our first film. We had no camera, and since we did it behind our father’s back, we also had no money, so we decided to illustrate the film frame-by-frame which meant we had to learn the whole process of animation before and during the production. Surprisingly, it was a success and the film was selected by the Ghetto Film School to be screened in their section in Sundance Film Festival, so we consequently exposed our deal to our father and were able to convince him (now that we accomplished something) to admit us to the faculty of applied arts in the GUC (German University in Cairo) to graduate with high honors in 2017.

During our 5 years in GUC, we separated for a while, each specializing in different area. Saad focused more on animation and directing short animated films and commercials, and Abdel focused more on short live-action films and cinematography, and when we started collaborating afterwards; this became characteristic of the  nnovative, sometimes experimental nature of our projects.

TO: GIve us more details about Traitors of the eyes.

The film started as an effort to tell a story about our relationship with our mother during her life and death. We always had a strange connection with her that we wanted to explore in a film. But we didn't have enough footage to show, because, even though during our childhood, she wanted to buy a Camera to record our funny  win moments,  and she was told it's Haram (forbidden). So we decided we're going to resurrect her in a different medium, and recreate everything in animation from memory. When we started working on the script, we decided to share both our recent and old diaries about her.


We were shocked to discover that each one of us remembered her almost differently, and in a way her death sometimes meant different things for each one of us.
We decided to keep this in the film which made it in many ways an exploration of the subjectivity of memory in the context of parent loss. But we realized that it was now no longer a story about our mother, but more of a story about us (the twins), and our conflicted perceptions of her. We wanted to explore more about who she was, but as we did we ended up uncovering secrets about her that relate to bigger secrets about ourselves that we didn't know about one another. Secrets that were far from convenient in the conservative Muslim family setting in which we grew up. And, finally, the film became about this journey of a trio that once was one entity, and brought together by their individual truths they morph into one again.

TO:  What led to the Stuttgart pitching?

AD-SD: We were working with Willy Rolle, a German producer from Stuttgart, on another project, and during a meeting in Cairo in 2018 he advised us to apply to the Arab Animation Forum. And since we were already writing drafts of this animation project, we took his advice and fortunately it turned out very well.

TO: What is the planned length of the film?

AD-SD: I's a short film, it started at 20 minutes, but we're in a rewriting phase which means the length is still up to the final draft of the script.

TO: Character and animation and the design style that you used?

AD-SD: This is a documentary animation, it will include animated sequences of events we didn't get a chance to record by video. When we started developing the visual style, we were leaning towards a meta-cinematic use of mediums that we believed will enhance the personal story. It was going to be a hybrid of different styles of frame-by-frame animation and live-action that was going to metaphorically represent the evolution of the characters. But as we're now in another process of rewriting and development, we're discovering more possibilities.

TO: How will the co-direction work? Both of you in Berlin?

AD-SD:: In a way, the co-direction has already started since the Animation Production Day forum. We were always exchanging drafts, sketches and mood boards, Saad working remotely from Egypt and Abdel physically present in Stuttgart and presenting the work. But it's too early to say where we're going to carry out the actual production phas,e since it's animation and could take place anywhere, no matter what the location of the story is. It will depend on many factors such as the flexibility of the funding, the locations of the team and the animation studio we end up collaborating with. We can only tell you now that Saad will be the one handling the Egyptian end of the production in terms of obtaining and documenting necessary footage in our home town.

TO: I understand there's a 6 month developing stage promised - what does it mean?

AD-SD: We will basically get to develop our project in a teamwork with our producer under the supervision of industry experts and mentors and in exchange with our fellow nominees. This is part of the Robert Bosch training program in which we will discuss and learn about many aspects of filmmaking: pre- production, international collaboration, funding, pitching and distribution. So the program is basically aimed at helping us realize our projects from script to screen even if we will not win the prize in the end, and that's one of the many great things about this opportunity.

About Tsvika Oren:

Tsvika Oren is a  veteran animator, director, journalist, festivals’ adviser, curator and lecturer, member of Asifa International board of directors. He has completed over 30 auteur films, among them BERESHEET BARA... (1974), ICE-CREAM & OTHER VEGETABLES(1975), THREADY GAMES (1976), Diary 1: ReANIMACJA 08 (2009), Diary 2: Emotions (2010) and A.B.1 (2013). He has also made many commissioned works for TV and for shorts and documentaries. Oren is also a lecturer of animation history and theory at Minshar For Art in Tel Aviv and an author of numerous articles and publications on animation.

The interview first appeared at Animation Center – online animation magazine # 466 (30.5.19), and reprinted here with permission.

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