Berlin Telegram - Leila Albayaty

Berlin Telegram - Leila Albayaty

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


Berlin Telegram

Partially set in Cairo, Leila

Albayaty’s first feature film

continues her cinematic and

musical journey

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

Berlinale jury.

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

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