Cairo Time  

by writer/director Ruba Nadda

Two weeks before we were set to shoot in Cairo, the financing for Cairo Time completely fell apart and all the work that had been put the previous four years was slipping through my fingers. I was in shock. I begged my producer, Danny Iron, to figure it out. I was heartbroken. I swore to myself if Cairo Time didn’t get made, that would be it. I was walking away. What scared me is I knew I was serious. I was desperate to tell this story. Danny asked me to give him 48 hours.

Five years ago, I got this idea. It was very simple. The character of Juliette appeared to me, very pronounced, sad, feeling out of sorts in her life, not exactly unhappy in her marriage but sort of given in to the state of her life. She had believed for so long that one day she’d have this "life" with her husband, until the day she arrives in Cairo to meet her husband for a vacation after not seeing him for so long, and once again, he stands her up. I wrote the script quite easily and quite quickly over the course of two months. I saw Juliette and Tareq very clearly and because I had been to Cairo several times, once with my parents and under the protective eye of my very Arab-looking father and then again with my sister, alone—and then finally on my own. I pocketed experiences, images, people, intimate feelings, until one day I knew I would use them all to tell this story. I wanted to tell a very un-West love story where a touch could mean so much, where it was not about immediate gratification. This film has a West-meets-East quality to the unexpected, unrequited love between an Arab man and a North American woman. It’s also a throwback to old style, classic films reminiscent of the restrained, emotional tension in the work of Jane Austen which I had started reading when I was fourteen in Damascus.

Within 48 hours, I was on a plane with my first AD travelling to Cairo to start early scouting. I could not—and I still can’t—believe I was allowed to shoot this movie. I completely understand that sometimes in life you don’t get what you want. But within those 48 hours, my dream was happening. I was getting to shoot this movie that had been a dream of mine since I was 16, with a cast as dreamy as you can get—Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. The next three months turned out to be the most brutal and difficult times of our lives. Cairo is an amazing city but it’s seething with humanity, the heat is unbearable (we were there from April to mid July), there are no sidewalks, there are no streetlights, people don’t drive with their lights on at night, you have to point and demand drivers to stop the cars and let you cross the street—we never had control over our locations, we had a censorship minder from the government watching my every move. I banned monitors, scripts, shot lists on my set. Often times I would have to send my sister, Fadia, to go take the censorship woman shopping, or for a coffee or to a different location where we were not shooting to lose her if for an afternoon if I had a difficult scene. This censorship woman had to sign the reels before they were allowed to be shipped back home. I was going to be damned if I let her win. I was protecting my script. And as it turns out, I didn’t alter one single word. There were three times where my camera crew and I were almost arrested—yet everyone, from my wicked Canadian and Arab crew to both Patricia and Alexander, handled everything with such grace and patience, we survived Cairo and we had a blast.

Cairo Time is a very simple and subtle story. It’s about unexpected love between two very ordinary people. I would have gone to the ends of the earth to get this movie made. I still can’t believe it’s happened.

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