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Cannes 2024: ‘The Brink of Dreams’ Celebrates Upper Egyptian Women

This documentary by Ayman El Amir and Nada Riyadh follows a group of teenage girls who defy convention to perform on stage.

Cairo Scene

Cannes 2024: ‘The Brink of Dreams’ Celebrates Upper Egyptian Women

The L’Oeil d’or prize is the highest honour for documentaries at the Cannes Film Festival - and for the second consecutive year, it has been awarded to two films. The prestigious award was handed out to ‘Ernest Cole: Lost and Found’, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Raoul Peck, and Egyptian documentary ‘Rafaat Einy ll Sama’ (‘The Brink of Dreams’), co-directed by Ayman El Amir and Nada Riyadh.

In ‘The Brink of Dreams’, Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir present a rebellious documentary about cultural resistance. It follows a determined group of young female artists from Upper Egypt. Their goal? To assert their independence both as theatre performers and as women. Despite facing numerous obstacles, they bravely take the stage in a society largely dominated by men.

What I loved most about this film is witnessing these women form a tight-knit community within Barsha village, a community that mirrors broader Egyptian society. The brave performers find themselves on a voyage of self-discovery, one that reveals as much about them as it does about the long-standing traditions of their village. In Upper Egypt, performing arts are frowned upon by both parents and religious figures. This film boldly challenges these misconceptions about women, bringing the dreams and realities of aspiring performers to the forefront.

As they go about their journey, the courageous teenage girls find themselves constantly challenging religious and societal constraints, as well as economic hardship, using their passion as a tool. The members of this theatre troupe resist the patriarchy to forge a brighter future for themselves and their loved ones. ‘The Brink of Dreams’ bravely fights for the rights of women to practise and engage in the arts. Apparently, Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir spent four years completing this film, and by the time the credits roll, you feel intimately attached to the protagonists.

One of my favourite films of all time is Michael Apted’s ambitious ‘Up’ documentary series. His groundbreaking films follow the same lives of British individuals from childhood to adulthood. It starts off in 1964, when they were seven years of age, all the way to 2019, when they’re 63 years old. The reason I bring this up is because I sincerely hope Riyadh and El Amir create a follow-up to ‘The Brink of Dreams’ in a decade or so. It would be wonderful to see where the performers’ journeys lead. 

Ingmar Bergman once beautifully expressed that "when film is not a document, it is a dream." Here, we have a film that beautifully merges both elements. It serves as a documentation of the dreams and aspirations of those who are often denied that right. Much like the performers in this film, both Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir adamantly resist the suppression of voices by allowing us to hope.


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