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September 2014
Issue: May 1, 2013

Documentary Short: 'From Queens to Cairo'

QUEENS, NY – Sherif Sadek, director of the Akhnaton Films (www.akhnatonfilms.com) produced From Queens to Cairo, has been nominated in the category of Best Director of a Short Documentary at the Madrid International Film Festival to be held in early July. 

Most recently, Sadek’s film was the winner of Best Feature Documentary at the Queens World Film Festival, NY, held in March.

The documentary, which will be shown as an Official Selection at the Rainier Independent Film Festival in May, follows Egyptian-American filmmaker Sherif Sadek as he returns to his native Cairo with his family one year after the start of the Egyptian Revolution. With tons of misinformation flying around in the media, Sadek wanted to see for himself how Egyptians would navigate the bumpy road to democracy after decades of authoritarianism. His journey takes him from Tahrir Square to the inside of taxis to rallies and slums collecting perspectives from all walks of life. 

Sadek says directing the film was very challenging. “When I went to my native Egypt in January 2012, I didn't know what kind of movie I wanted to make. I had an idea in mind to compare one person's personal life and tie it in to the changes facing the country after the Egyptian Revolution started in 2011.”

Originally, Sadek wasn’t even going to be in the film. “When I couldn't find someone I could rely on 100 percent to be available to film in Egypt, something that could fit in with my family's holiday schedule, I decided to turn the camera on myself and my family,” he says. “My mother had moved from the apartment that my brother and I were born in, in downtown Cairo, only three blocks away from Tahrir Square. I wanted to tie in my mother's move from my childhood home to the revolt happening only a few blocks away. I figured my family would not be so bad on film, since my kids (two and four years old) are so used to me shoving cameras in their faces, they tend to dismiss it altogether. That’s pretty much the same reaction that my wife has to a camera now, after being married to me for a number of years.”  

Sadek shot about 23-25 hours of footage on his Nikon D700 DSLR, with a few shots on his iPhone. “When I got back to the US, I sat down with an old colleague of mine, Dan Hacker, with whom I had worked with as an Avid tech at PostWorks NY and showed him the footage. He told me he saw a bit of a different film in there, and we debated, talked, discussed, fought, debated, talked, discussed, and fought again, and finally came up with the film that people are seeing now.”  

It was very challenging, he says. “In a way, we were reverse engineering a film. We had footage. We had an idea. Now we needed to make sure the footage supported that idea.” He ended up hiring someone to do pick-up shots, as well as using YouTube footage for the historical, archival sections of the film.

He then used Assimilate’s Scratch software to do the conforming and turned to Jason Crump at Metropolis Post (www.metpostny.com) for the color grading in Scratch. Sadek was able to do the finishing himself, using the Scratch Finishing software. Sadek is well familiar with the tools since he works in technical support at Assimilate. He says experiencing to toolset as a user, gave him invaluable insight into the “craft and creativity of post production artists.”

Sadek says Scratch was very helpful to his workflow when working with his editor on dailies. “I used Lab to convert the H.264 QuickTimes from my Nikon HDSLR to ProRes so my editor could cut in Final Cut. I added timecode using Scratch’s Generate TC tool, which later helped a lot with the conform to the original camera media. The media that the editor got had Reel ID, TC and the clip names burnt-in. This allowed my editor to follow the translations that were done, since most of the dialog was in Arabic, and my editor had never, ever been to Egypt before.

He says the conform was fairly simple. Even though he used a lot of YouTube videos for archival footage, the entire conform process took about 30 minutes from start to finish. “I was then able to deliver a Scratch project to Jason at Metropolis Post to open up on his Scratch and start the color correction process.”