Courtesy Leila Al Bayaty (4)
eila Albayaty is a woman of many cultures and an artist of many disciplines. Born in
Bordeaux to an Iraqi father and a French mother, she first studied the violin, then
architecture and finally moved to study cinema at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion (IAD)
in Brussels. Albayaty, like the character she plays in her two latest films, is a traveler always
on a quest for inspiration, always on a quest for real love. For the past three years, her travels
have taken her across Europe and to Egypt on a project that has produced not only her first
feature film Berlin Telegram, but also an album of the same name.
Albayaty splits her time between Brussels and Berlin, but I first met her two years ago
in Cairo, when she was shooting the Egyptian scenes for Berlin Telegram. Sitting in a coffee
shop overlooking the Nile, she was explaining how, with the help of her sister Hanaa and
her Belgian producer Julien Sigalas, she succeeded in getting the shots she wanted without
102 Egypt Today May 2012
Partially set in Cairo, Leila
Albayaty’s first feature film
continues her cinematic and
By Sherif AwAd
going through the process of getting permits
from the local authorities. The secret
was the long shot: for example, Leila had to
cross a Cairo street while the camera on the
top of a building filmed her from far way.
The film-making bug bit Albayaty early:
After only a few months at the IAD, she
dropped out in 2007 to start shooting
her first documentary Vacances (Holidays),
a video log of a journey across Southern
Europe in a motor home. Even before that,
Albayaty, who is a songwriter and a performance artist, released her
first record album Dans le Soleil (In the Sun, 2006), featuring mostly
songs in French along with one in English called New York.
After Vacances, Albayaty’s next film was a short narrative called Vu
(Seen), which she wrote, directed and also starred in, alongside her
real-life sister Hanaa. Screened to a warm welcome in the 2009 Berlin
Film Festival, Vu defined the particular style of filmmaking that Albayaty
is making her own.
Technically, she uses different types of cameras, including digital,
cellphones and 35mm — a versatility that served her well in Cairo.
On the narrative side, she fuses her personal experiences with
real people in her daily life with fictitious characters and imagined
scenes. Part drama and part documentary, Vu is about a young
woman who partially lost her memory following a car accident,
something that really happened to Leila a few years ago. The young
woman (also called Leila and played by Albayaty herself) travels to
meet her sister (Leila’s real-life sister Hanaa) in Rome during the
summer break. However, Leila is still confused and haunted by
painful memories of an ex-lover. Because Vu is seen through the
weeping eyes of Leila, the film ends before we know if her dream
lover is real or whether it was just her imagination. Vu was awarded
a special mention by the jury of the Berlinale’s Shorts section for
the quality of its music, which Leila also co-created.
Over the last three years, Albayaty has been moving between
Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Cairo to shoot the followup to Vu, the
feature-length Berlin Telegram. At the same time, she toured the music
scene in each city, experimenting with local pop, rock, contemporary,
electro and oriental musicians. Expected to be released this
year, the resulting album, also called Berlin Telegram, contains songs
from the film’s original soundtrack written by Albayaty, and others
inspired by her experience while shooting the film.
Berlin Telegram seems to pick up where Vu ended. The opening
scene has Leila, still a tortured soul, performing sad songs in front
of live audience. We notice another young lady watching her in tears.
It is her sister Hanaa. Cut to the next scene, the following morning,
where Leila receives a telegram from her ex-boyfriend who has decided
to leave her by sending this note instead of a final goodbye in
person. Seeking an escape from the memories, Leila decides to leave
Berlin on a quest for inspiration. Her voice-over carries us through
most of the scenes of Berlin Telegram, which becomes a road trip movie
with an assortment of characters, artists, actors and musicians she
meets along the way. Leila tries to pick up the pieces of her life, become
more creative as an artist and, most of all, forget her wounds.
“It is a continuation of Vu given the fact that the two films have
autobiographical elements. I was trying to create something universal
based on personal stuff. I think real love still exists, but it takes
time to forget the past and find the future. As for the actors, some
of them appeared in the film because we are friends. It is a kind of
guest appearance,” says Albayaty, this time in a Berlin coffee shop.
Like the diverse settings and camera techniques, the dialogue is
mostly in French but the songs are in English.
“Everything is still interconnected. The songs in the film interpret
the scenes and vice versa. I wrote a lot of music and lyrics that
figure into the film but people can discover more songs in my record
or in my live shows,” she explains. “Although the scenes seem to be
Albayaty and her reallife
sister Hanaa in Vu.
The short Vu was
acclaimed by the
Berlin Telegram picks up
the storyline from Vu.
improvised, there was a finished script and everything was prepared
beforehand. However the two processes of writing films and songs
are different for me. I write my film in solitude while I work on my
music in circles with lot of composers and lyricists.”
Will she continue helming films in that style?
“my next film will be full of humor and less lyrical,” Albayaty
says, “although I am attracted to making films with autobiographical
Berlin Telegram, the film and the album, will soon be released in
Europe and hopefully here in Egypt. et
May 2012 Egypt Today 103