Coming Forth By Day, the debut feature film by the Egyptian writer-director Hala Lotfy, is a tightly controlled study of a small family being worn down by the indignities of everyday life: sickness, money problems, rejection, restlessness, frustration. Dialogue is sparse and most of the action happens in a single, cramped apartment, but the first-time actors wring pathos from every glance.
Fresh from its European premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival - and six months after winning two awards at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival - the film is heading to the Birds Eye View film festival for its first screening in the UK.
What challenges did you face getting this film made?
Just to get permission to shoot in the streets, you need the approval of five different governmental bodies. Then I had to negotiate laws forbidding an individual to do the film because as a sole artist you don't have a right to go to the censorship board.
I was telling the head of censorship in Egypt that this is absurd because you are encouraging big tycoons who run the production to monopolise everything. You're urging the youngsters who write films to give away their rights.
After we finished, we formed a collective (Hassala Films) to share our information with other filmmakers and to help launch as many risk-taking feature-length films as possible.
Was it always your plan to focus on very small moments in Coming Forth By Day?
I believe that all stories have been told already. If you're not going to have something different to add then why bother? We should change the way stories are told in Egypt because commercial movies don't reflect our culture. The problem is that we are imitating Hollywood; we are doing films that are not reflecting our lives. But if we encourage more and more filmmakers to do their films, not films for the market, things will change eventually.
The film seems so natural. Was any of the dialogue improvised?
I thought that if we made the actors say a final script it would not be real enough. I knew that we would be doing long takes and if you don't have a private inner world for each actor then it will be so boring to watch these characters in front of the camera for nine minutes at a time.
How did Ahmad Lutfi, a former journalist, get cast in one of the lead roles?
We discovered him by coincidence walking in the street, sent him the script and he said OK.
I was curious to know why he wanted to do the film, knowing that it would be a bit humiliating for a famous guy like him who had worked in newspapers. He said: "I had the same experience with my mother. I'll do the film as an homage to her."
Two months after shooting, he had a stroke and died. Everyone who saw the film, his family and friends, they said he knew. That's why he did the film. He was saying goodbye.
Was the film inspired by your life?
I was working for a year making documentary films for Al Jazeera in Dubai when I found out that my father was sick and that two of my very dear friends were sick with cancer. I felt that it wasn't just me and my loved ones who were suffering from an illness; it was the whole country.
I had this feeling that we were suffocating. Anyone who visited Egypt before the revolution just caught this feeling in the air. It was a huge despair and everyone had the feeling we could not proceed this way. So the film was not intended to be like this but it was something I could not avoid. Losing hope, I could not avoid that.
How did the revolution affect filming?
We stopped filming in July 2010 and got back to the project after the revolution. Actually, the film's original title was The Stroke and after the revolution we had a reference that we wanted to include. The literal title of the Egyptian Book of the Dead is Coming Forth By Day. Borrowing the name meant that even if we are witnessing a death, at some point it might be a new form of life.