Everyone knows at least some of the stories from the NIGHTS – those of Aladdin and his lamp, or Sindbad the sailor, and so on. Within the Maghreb and “Middle East”, however, Shahrazad, the famous princess who saves lives by telling stories to the murderous Sultan night after night, has a much deeper resonance: she is an archetypal female (and proto-feminist) saviour of lives through creativity. Taking as a starting point that traditional political analysis is not enough to explain social change, THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD looks at the legacy of Shahrazad and the NIGHTS, directly and indirectly, within the context of current events. On the one hand, Shahrazad’s story presents a parable for a people finding its voice; on the other, she is a constantly reincarnated source of inspiration for social and political change.
Filmed before, during and after the Arab Spring, THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD weaves together music, oral storytelling and politics to produce an experience that is insightful, magical and deeply moving, and which celebrates the ways in which human beings turn important and difficult realities into art, and how art in turn impacts on reality. The film emulates the interlinking story structure of the NIGHTS itself (where stories lead into other stories and back again), and the tale of Shahrazad and the Sultan Shahriar is used to frame four narratives, as well as various current-day appearances of the NIGHTS and other impressions from Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon. Various original stories from the NIGHTS appear in different ways, as does poetry from Iran’s Green Revolution as well as unusual archival scenes, cinematic impressions, smaller performances and various vignettes with interlinking characters.
Highly gifted young Turkish violinist Hande Kuden takes part in a two-week rehearsal process leading to a performance in Istanbul of Rimsky-Korsakov’s SCHEHERAZADE suite. Using the work as a model for democratic functioning, charismatic conductor Cem Mansur leads her and other student musicians through a process of education around the position of women and of various minorities within Turkey. Hande finds her own voice not only by playing, as lead violinist, the Scheherazade theme within the suite, but also by partaking in various workshops and other social events in which Mansur gets students to think far more broadly about their roles of musicians in society…
Alexandrian storyteller Arfa abd el Rasool and Cairean human rights researcher Alia Mossallam both have a long relationship with El Warsha, Egypt’s foremost independent theatre troupe, run by the extremely charming and articulate Hassan el Geretly. The troupe has been at the forefront of bringing traditional storytelling techniques into formal theatre spaces throughout Egypt. Alia’s life changed during the January 25 Revolution when she collected evidence on police killings – since then she has been collecting the testimonies of the families of martyrs, one of which is that of Ruqqaia Ayman from Hawamdeyya, whose teenage son was arbitrarily shot dead by a police sniper on 28 January. This tale follows the moving process of Arfa, Alia, Hassan and Ruqqaia joining forces in different ways to produce an intensely powerful storytelling performance out of Ruqqaia’s testimony.
Ghida Hammoud is an attractive, compassionate and troubled young woman from Beirut. After having experienced the horrors and after-effects of war first-hand, she comes to Egypt to look for something else: growth, life experience, some form of wholeness. She starts acting, and attends workshops with Hassan el Geretly’s El Warsha theatre group, learning the art of traditional storytelling, and working with stories that deal with situations similar to her own. Back in Lebanon she starts landing bigger film roles and then returns to Egypt when the Revolution happens. Here she finds herself caught up in the outbreak of post-revolution clashes between Copts and Muslims, which takes her back to experiences in Lebanon and towards needing to decide her own future as both political and artistic being…
Hani el Masri is an affable, humane, soulful and humorous Cairean artist who has in many ways devoted his life to the NIGHTS. His personal, romantic, creative and political desires somehow combine in the figure of Shahrazad, whom he has been drawing in various ways over many years. Having returned from many years away to an Egypt which he felt is losing its soul both politically and culturally, he has often felt isolated and disheartened in his work, and has for example been unable to find an outlet for a massive tapestry he has made which is based on scenes from the NIGHTS. Around the time of the Revolution he finds his “dream of Shahrazad” in the appearance in his life of striking younger storyteller Abeer Soliman, which stimulates him in many new creative directions…
Rimsky-Korsakov’s music has unparalleled visual power (it is because of this that he has been called “the father of film music”), and each of the four movements of the SCHEHERAZADE suite runs in full, with interruptions, thereby playing a central structural role in the film. Music often interacts with fantastical images or news and other archive footage to lend unexpected musical, thematic and cinematic power.
Shooting format: XDCam, HD, HDV
Distribution format: DCP
Length: 107 mins
Languages: Arabic, English, Turkish (with subtitles)