Meet Ziad Haggag, The Young Egyptian Filmmaker Who Is About to Take the World By Storm

By: Rawan Khalil

If you know me then you probably know that I have a thing for art, so naturally, when I find an account on Instagram that screams bel art et photographie I am drawn in. I stumbled onto Ziad’s account mid-May and I quickly fell in love with his art, vision, and style. We (as in me, Hanya and Fadila) were out on the look for new younger talents, and well Ziad has effortlessly fit every criterion we had. I, shamelessly (that’s a lie) slid into his dms to ask about his age and to have a chat. Talking to Ziad you briskly notice one thing; Ziad loves cinema. He’s in love with his art. He inhales it. It literally runs in his blood vessels. He’s oozing with passion and that just left me in awe. You’re probably wondering who is Ziad?

Ma chere Mademoiselle, it is with deepest pride 

And greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight

And now we invite you to relax, let us pull up a chair 

As I proudly present Ziad Haggag

(Please excuse the beauty and the beast reference, but when you interview a filmmaker I think it’s only appropriate to reference films)

Ziad is a 22-year-old Egyptian filmmaker and photographer born and based in Alexandria. His previous movies were screened in film festivals worldwide. His work is also featured on Vogue Italia. His movies are centered around women empowerment such as “The Seven Servants” and the documentary he’s currently working on “Deliverance: A Women’s Revolt”. 

Ziad went to Riada American School. He was part of the graduating class of 2016 (and, well he admits to being really bad at school). He then went to Notre Dame University in Lebanon but had to go back to Alexandria for personal reasons, so he transferred to AAST in Alexandria and is currently studying Media/Mass Communications and in much simpler terms- cinema and will  graduate in 2021. 

I have only just introduced you to Ziad the filmmaker, but we haven’t even scratched the surface.

I have to admit before getting to the questions that I was very greedy, and I never let Ziad off easily. In fact, we did the interview twice because I wanted more, I wanted to understand him and then get you (the reader) to understand him as well.

Ziad, Who are you? How do you define yourself? Tell me about Ziad, the 22-year-old?

“Um, well, well I’m a vegan. I’m an introverted person. I prefer staying at home and working.

I like having one Tarantino film marathon every month. I also like stargazing, and taking pictures of strangers; I went to Aswan last January for a documentary project for like a week. I went alone and I stayed in a really small hotel in the Nubian Village, just me and my camera. I used to enter random people’s houses and take pictures of them, they were really friendly. I really enjoyed capturing them without having them paying attention to me… The pictures were then featured in Vogue Italia, so…”

How are you- with all that’s happening in the world?

“I’ve been feeling so anxious, I’m always thinking about what if someone I know got the virus or something. I miss a lot of things. I used to order books online, now I’m ordering face shields lol. 

I just miss going out without wearing a face mask and having alcohol in my bag. I’m spending my time working on my documentary and giving my whole time to it. Of course, COVID-19 destroyed a lot of my plans including moving to LA for good but yeah I’m currently spending more time with my family, more time working. I also miss going to the beach with my family/friends. I miss seeing my friends on a daily basis.”

You mentioned that you were bad at school, do you think that’s because of how the school systems favor the kids who are more science-centered or is it because you just didn’t like school? 

“It’s not that deep I actually liked school but I grew up wanting to be a filmmaker so I was like will history and algebra really help me achieve my goal? And, also algebra ewww.”

How did your parents react to you wanting to become a filmmaker?

“They were very supportive. My mother always encourages me, she always hypes me up! When I  showed her the trailer she was like: “you’re gonna be the best filmmaker in the world” which was very cute. She’s a cinema lover as well.” 

What does family mean to you? 

“Family is family. My home. I like staying with them.”

How is your relationship with your brother?

“We have the same interests. He’s a writer. He has published like 4 books before. He’s also a photographer. We’re close. He’s someone I always talk to about my work, and he’s so supportive.” 

How did you get out of that mental strain, and the darker place in your life? 

I got on my feet by deciding to film my first film ‘Solitude’ which was about depression and loneliness- art cured me. I swear that’s the truth. I feel like I’m not the right person to talk about mental illness and I am scared, I am scared I will trigger people. But, what I did was… I simply started writing the script, which was a way of showing how I’m feeling on paper, and by that time I was so passionate about cinema- I’ve always wanted to start working on my first film and when I first decided to film it I chose a topic that I relate to, and yeah…

It got accepted into film festivals worldwide. It really empowered me.”

How old were you when you started, how was the process?

“I was 19. I remember writing every day at home. I never really got distracted or anything. I used to always listen to Pink Floyd.”

You started pretty young, how is that, how do you feel like your work has grown? What do you think you’ve learned from starting young?

“As I mentioned before, I have always been passionate about cinema. When I was a kid I didn’t want to grow up being a doctor, I didn’t want to grow up being an engineer, I wanted to be a filmmaker. 

I feel my work has grown pretty much especially right now while shooting “Deliverance: A Women’s Revolt” but I’m still learning and I’ll learn a thing or two every day. That’s because my hero/goal will always be a day/month/year later. I just pulled a Matthew McConaughey but it’s the truth. 

I grew up learning stuff from everyone I met- a friend/taxi driver/stranger from the street which helped me develop every character in my scripts as well as, developing my own character. As Quentin Tarantino said before: I steal from every movie I watch.” 

What do you wish you knew when you first started at 19?

“Honestly, not sharing my scripts with anyone, because people steal you know.” 

You mentioned that you are a strong advocate for veganism; how and why did you transition- and how would you explain your strong stance?

“I’ve always wanted to become a vegan. I’ve always thought about calves being slaughtered and taken away from their mothers and vice versa. So, I remember watching this very harsh video of cows being slaughtered and taken to the supermarkets so people can eat them. Also, being vegan is healthier for your heart- and it’s better for the environment as eating animals is the main reason for climate change”

When did you transition? 

“I’ve been vegan for almost a year and a few months. The breaking point was: watching a video of a group of people slaughtering cows in the street and throwing their heads in the middle of the street. I was like yeah okay, I have to do something.”

Are vegan and Alexandria doing well together? 

“No. Fuck, no! I make my own food at home.”

We already touched on this, but what sparked your love for film and motivated you to become a director/filmmaker?

“I remember going to the film rental store as a kid once every month, and by that time it was very odd for a kid my age to rent movies such as ‘Taxi Driver’ ‘Psycho’ etc. instead of early 2000s kids movies. I used to rent VHSs back then. I grew up watching Tarantino movies and I was like I wanna become a director one day- I wanna make movies. I would say the films that most resonated with me were Pulp Fiction, Audrey Hepburn films- Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Let’s talk about obstacles. Did you have any pitfalls, any moments which you felt stuck?

“Oh yeah, a lot of film festivals have rejected me. And, with corona and the Lebanese revolution a film that I was working on: A Day in Beirut got cancelled, because I couldn’t travel back to Beirut which was really harsh on me; I was working on that for like two years, and I had my cast/crew ready and all. I had to leave the screenplay in my cupboard and start working on Deliverance.” 

What type of movies do you wanna grow and make, what type of stories do you want to tell?

“I wanna make documentaries about women empowerment in the Arab world, I’ve also been thinking about making a documentary about the Egyptian heroes who fought against Israel on 6 October”

Do you love Egypt?

“I do. I love Egypt. And, believe it or not, I can’t picture myself living anywhere else”

Why did you become a feminist, and what do you think of men who think being a feminist is degrading or ‘emasculating’?

“Some men think that having equal rights to women is degrading? I think that says enough about their personality. Why would anyone be against equal rights? They think that feminism means hating men, but it’s simpler than that. It’s equal rights.” 

Which public personality figures who support women’s rights do you find particularly inspiring and empowering and why is that?

“Joumana Haddad. Joumana is an inspiring person, she always helps people with their problems and she’s so friendly when I first talked to her about the interview she was willing to help and to take part. She always helps women to fight for their rights in Lebanon.”

Your films are centered around women, you did mention that you’re a feminist but why did you choose to go that certain path? And what message do you want to perpetuate in the long run?

“I think Arab women deserve a love letter.. especially that the west doesn’t know much about Arab women so I thought I should show them how Arab women really are. I also thought it’s perfect to show the world how is it like to be a Palestinian woman. I think Arab women are so powerful and inspiring to the whole world because… they’re powerful. My biggest dream is to cover all social issues in my movies and to show my work to the whole world.”

How do you see the job of the director?

“I think it’s making your idea or vision come to life. For example, I sometimes think about something before I sleep I wake up the other day and start writing about it.”

You have an obvious love for Tarantino, what about his films and his personality attracts you to him and his work? 

I mean who else other than Tarantino would change history and give Sharon Tate another summer to live as he did in OUATIH? Who else other than Tarantino would end Nazis in a movie theater using 35mm film print? The guy is a true cinephile. You can see his true love for cinema by how he shows it on screen. He actually films what he wants, not what other people want. Also, his music selections- wow!” 

Are there any Arab directors that you’re particularly fond of? 

“Nadine Labaki. Marwan Hamed. Nadine Labaki is my favourite Arab director. I really liked Caramen and Caphernaum. I loved how she portrayed the life of a Syrian refugee in Capernaum.” 

I have noticed how you always share stories about Audrey Hepburn, and you mentioned how her films made you fall in love with cinema, why do you love her and why does she stand out between other actors?

“Actually, I don’t have much to say about Audrey Hepburn. I grew up watching her movies with my mum. She was pure talent. Funny Face was my favourite musical as a kid because of her. I grew up wanting to go to Paris because of her even though I hated Paris. She was an angel.”

If you would choose one Arab personality to make a documentary about who would it be? and why that particular person? what about their life draws you in?

“Youssef Chahine. I think Youssef Chahine’s life story was so interesting, he was pure talent and had his own school. He was a true auteur. especially when it comes to إسكندرية ليه. Wow, man. So inspiring! Someone coming from Alexandria, then becoming one of the Arab world’s most recognized directors. How inspiring?! He’s a true legend.” 

If you have to have dinner with three Arab public personalities dead or alive who would you invite?

Wow, that’s a really good question. Omar El Sherif, Faten Hamama, and Nadine Labaki. 

Nadine Labaki is my favourite Arab director. I’d love to have a conversation about cinema with her.

 Omar El Sherif was a true gentleman who went to Hollywood to make movies. He’s a true inspiration for me.

Faten Hamama. Wow. How powerful? How intelligent? I wish I could go back in time to see her. She’s Egypt’s most iconic movie star.”

What’s your favourite series this year, and what’s your favourite Egyptian series of all time?

“My favourite series this year was الاختيار if not my favourite Egyptian series of all time. You have no idea how many calls I’ve received from my Egyptian friends living abroad; they’ve been telling how much they wanna come back to Egypt because of it.” 

Okay let’s talk about Deliverance- first off tell me about it, the vision, where and how you started, and what to expect? Basically, what is deliverance?

“Damn Deliverance. Deliverance: a women’s revolt is a feature feminist documentary about Arab women empowerment. I’ve been working on it for almost a year now. It is my baby. Deliverance is the main reason why I’m hopefully going to Cannes. I have the honor of having Joumana Haddad in my film. I am currently searching for a distributor because I’m trying to pitch my film to Mubi and Netflix.”

How has the current global state impacted production?

“The plan was interviewing women in Lebanon, London, NYC, Morocco, and Tunisia. All plans got screwed. Instead, I found myself an amazing crew who helped in Lebanon- especially my production manager Nour Myra who’s so powerful by the way, she helped me a lot. So yeah everything eventually worked well for me. I’m almost done- three weeks left!.”

How did you pick the topics to discuss in the documentary, and how did you pick the people who you’d interview? and how was all the planning and research before? 

“Joumana Haddad who’s the founder of Joumana Haddad Freedoms Center and is too influential and has a great personality, also Hala Sabbah who’s the founder of @healthyfeminist she’s Jordanian-Palestinian. She helps women from different nationalities in all of their problems. Nour Myra is a young Lebanese feminist activist who became an icon in Lebanon and is too powerful. Roisin Tapponi who’s the founder of the Habibi collective which is a page that supports Arab female filmmakers, go support her y’all. She is amazing. Actually, I can’t talk much about anything related to the film, but I’ll give you a sneak peek. We discussed stuff like patriarchy /freedom. We discussed everything that matters to Arab women, also the freedom of Palestinian women and stereotypes.”

Joumana Haddad and Nour Myra when filming Deliverance 

Okay, back to Ziad the person, not the director. Do you ever feel lonely?

“Of course I do. I think during quarantine we all feel lonely, we’re not able to be with our family, friends, loved ones. But, overall, I always feel something is missing, something that I need.”

Can you describe that thing in one word?

“Yeah, love. Hahahahah.” 

Do you feel like you’re looking for it or waiting for it to come?

“I’m waiting for it to come”

That’s very contradicting to you saying you don’t believe in love anymore.

“Trust me it’s not a good idea to talk about love, I don’t believe in love anymore but i know it’ll come- one day.” 

But, what is love? In a word, or three?

“Love can be between partners, family or friends. 

Love is when you need someone the most and have them there, always.”

Do you have any regrets?

“I don’t cause YOLO. Hahahahaha. Live your life without regret bitches.”

What’s your biggest fear? 

“Uhm, death of a loved one and growing too old.”

What makes you feel valuable? 

“What do you mean? My art I guess.” 

So, do you define yourself by your work? 

“I do. Of course. I define myself by my movies. I grew up wanting to be a director, I was always passionate about cinema, I remember as a kid, my favourite thing ever was to go to the video rental store. so I grew up motivating myself that I’ll be what I want when I’m older so yeah I haven’t achieved what I want yet but I am getting there.”

Ziad in one word?

“Cinephile.”

Love, 

Rawan x

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