Sunday, March 13, 2011

First documentary about Egypt's mental health care finally shows there

From Ahram Online:

Zelal (Shadows), directed by Marianne Khoury and Mustapha Hasnaoui, received its Egypt premiere at Galaxy cinema, Giza, on Sunday 13 March, at 6pm.

The documentary explores the state and practice of the mental health profession, and delves into life inside psychiatric institutions in Egypt. The film won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRISCI ) award for best documentary at the 8th Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)

Synopsis (courtesy of DIFF)

A quiet masterpiece of hard-hitting reportage, Mustapha Hasnaoui and Marianne Khoury's 'Zelal' has drawn global critical praise for its hard-hitting and sobering insight into the lives of those afflicted by mental illness in Egypt today. Filmed in two large asylums, the film reveals the horrific conditions in which patients are expected to live - squalor and neglect is endemic, staff are stretched beyond breaking point, therapy and treatment seems non-existent. Khoury interviews inmates with gentle sensitivity and respect, never veering into sensationalism or patronising sentimentality. It's a brutal indictment of the country's failed healthcare system and the consequence of an increasingly religious conservatism in policymaking that leaves the afflicted stigmatised and left to rot. Harrowing 'Zelal' may be, but as a piece of vital social documentary, its sensitivity and uncompromising respect for its subjects imbues them, and the films arguments for fair treatment, with dignity and eloquence.

Cast & Credits

Director/Scriptwriter: Marianne Khoury, Mustapha Hasnaoui; Producer: Gabriel Khoury, Marianne Khoury; Cinematographer: Tamer Joseph, Victor Credi; Editor: Doaa Fadel.

The film will be presented in Arabic with English subtitles; Running time: 90 mins.
Here's a Hollywood Reporter review of it from 2010:

VENICE -- Perhaps the first Egyptian documentary about the world of mental illness, "Zelal" opens a window on the residents of two locked-door hospitals in Cairo, telling their strange and moving stories with great compassion.
The patients are a mixture of Christians and Muslims, often not that different from the people glimpsed in the outside world. Co-directed by well-known producer Marianne Khoury, who made many of Youssef Chahine’s films, and award-winning documentarist Mustapha Hasnaoui, the film will be of particular interest to festivals.

The movie opens on a weeping father who brings his son in for treatment. His moving account underlines the shame and dishonor of mental illness in Egyptian society, where it’s still a taboo subject. This theme recurs in the story told by a young woman who has been sexually rejected by her husband. In another snapshot, an older woman who looks forward to leaving the hospital makes frantic preparations to return to her brother’s family, only to be cast out a few weeks later.

Suggesting the thin line between sanity and madness, a veiled Muslim woman visiting her delusional son in the hospital describes how, in her opinion, he is the victim of a spell cast by a Christian she-devil who installed a TV antenna on the roof while wearing see-through clothing.

Though the wards are poor and run-down, with broken plumbing and torn-up mattresses, under the surface there lies a world very similar to equivalent Western institutions. Interestingly, one of the hospitals seems to be run by Christian Copts, and Jesus is as familiar to the patients as Allah.

Nor is all bleak and dark: There are laughing patients and those who tenderly watch out for their friends. Some of the long-term residents work at odd jobs.

Cinematographers Tamer Joseph and Victor Credimake the most of HDV, giving the film constant visual interest with contrasting colors and beautifully lit faces.