Egyptian-Austrian filmmaker A.B. Shawky makes his feature directorial debut with “Yomeddine,” an underdog story about an outsider who sets out to make sense of the world that refuses to accept him as he is. The film had its world premiere in competition at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and was the official Egyptian entry for foreign language film consideration at the 91st Academy Awards.
Acquired by Strand Releasing (all North American rights), “Yomeddine” is now set to open later this month in New York and Los Angeles.
The film’s plot follows Beshay — a man cured of leprosy — who has never left the leper colony in the Egyptian desert where he has lived since childhood. Following the death of his wife, he decides to go in search of his roots and confront the world, with his modest possessions strapped to a donkey cart and a traveling companion named Obama, an outcast Nubian orphan he has taken under his wing.
Starring as Beshay is Rady Gamal, a first-time actor who Shawky was introduced to at the Abu Zaabal Leper Colony. Obama is played by Ahmed Abdelhafiz, also a newcomer and of Nubian heritage — a people whose lives are rarely depicted on-screen.
Shawky said the idea for the film came to him while he was filming a short documentary titled “El Mosta’mara” (“The Colony”) in 2009, which chronicles the stories of residents of the Abu Zaabal Leper Colony, two hours north of Cairo, Egypt. Witnessing how those afflicted with the disease are pushed into seclusion from the rest of the world, he came to realize how much more leprosy is a social issue than a medical one. He decided to tell a story about a character who is defined by his humanity, not his disease.
“Yomeddine” means “Day of Judgement” in Arabic, the theological worldview that states that all of humanity will one day be judged according to their actions only, not what they look like. It’s understood to be a day when everyone will be regarded as equal — an important theme in the lives of the characters of the film who are looked down upon in society, awaiting their own judgement day. It is a notion seen as a source of comfort and something to anticipate, whether they believe it to be a real thing or not.
Shawky, a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, directed “Yomeddine” from his own script. It’s also the narrative feature debut for Egyptian-American producer Dina Emam.
Strand will open the dramedy on May 31 in New York at IFC, and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle’s theatres.
Check out IndieWire’s exclusive first trailer for “Yomeddine” below.
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