Three years ago I decided to take a leap of faith and follow my dreams of being a filmmaker, which meant that I had to leave my 8 year long career in architecture. It wasn’t an easy decision to make as architecture is a far safer and more stable career than filmmaking. All my life I wanted to be a film director, but I was too afraid to pursue my dream. Until one day I realized how unhappy I was as an architect so I gathered up all my strength and took the biggest risk in my life, leaving my career behind and going back to school to study filmmaking.
I have an immense passion for documentaries because they are an intensely personal form of art that gives people a voice and a space to tell their stories. For that reason, I wanted to make them.
So in 2019, I started my own documentary series, “Straight from the Heart.” As a one-woman crew production I produced, directed, shot, and edited all the episodes. “Straight from the Heart” is a series of short documentaries about inspiring people with big hopes and dreams. The series was filmed between Alexandria, Egypt, and Dubai and featured the stories of people from different countries and cultural backgrounds.
Believe me, it isn’t an easy job, especially when you’ve just started as a filmmaker, but I was very determined and I wanted to make my dream come true.
The journey begins with a single step.
I had to be realistic about my project, nobody gets up one morning and says to themselves, “I think I’m going to make a film today,” and then all of a sudden a finished film manifests itself in their life a few moments later. But filmmaking teaches us how to take on huge goals, break them down into their smallest, most essential parts, and complete each part accordingly. So, I decided to make a series of small documentaries that are easier to manage and control. I started meeting with a lot of people and recording their stories until I found my way to the inspiring and powerful ones.
It takes courage to stand alone!
When you are new in the filmmaking industry it’s hard to find people to collaborate with or someone to finance your project, so I decided to take the road less travelled and work on my project as a solo filmmaker. As mentioned, I began to write, direct, shoot, and edit the whole project. Despite the fact that it is a very tiring job, doing something that pushes you towards your goal gives you so much energy. You have to love the process, and you have to love the act of creating so much that you do it for its own sake and discover yourself in the outcome.
My favorite part about making documentaries is meeting with new people and getting to know them, it’s a huge responsibility when they trust me with their stories and emotions. You must be honest and objective, and present the story both as it is and in a compelling way. By that I mean that the editing process must be approached with a sense of clarity about how each editing decision affects the overall story that you are telling.
What the love of filmmaking has taught me:
Being a solo female filmmaker has its limitations. For starters, you don’t have a crew to support you or help you with a big bag of equipment as you go from one location to the next. Despite that, working as a filmmaker gave me the opportunity to see and experience different shades of life, which has helped me appreciate every challenge that I have to overcome so far. But most importantly, filmmaking has taught me the following lessons:
1. Be more independent. You learn to do everything by yourself—from rigging lights to setting cameras and testing sound—all while directing my subject. I love it when people have that skeptical look on their faces that reads, “Are you going to do all that by yourself!” And my reaction to that is, “Yeah, Watch me!”
2. Letting go of your ego. Unlike fiction, documentaries are very real and full of surprises. Almost nothing goes according to plan and that teaches you to be resourceful and to solve problems creatively. You simply try to do your best and practice the art of acceptance. You learn to let go of your ego and to let go of the idea that you have total control over everything.
3. Find your own voice. As an artist I wanted to find my own voice. We find our unique voices by trying new things. Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s all about taking inspiration from everything and everywhere possible and channeling your voice into something that is uniquely your own.
4. One-on-one communication. With practice you will gradually improve at communicating with others. And the more conscious effort you place in listening deeply and sympathizing with those onscreen, the better you will develop as a filmmaker.
In the end, it will all be worth it!
I hope that my documentaries influence the viewer in a positive way. Success of any kind takes hard and consistent work, plus a whole lot of resilience when things don’t go your way. If you care deeply about what you are making, and you make it well, it will resonate with the audience. Filmmaking is insanely difficult, and the road to get there will almost certainly be fraught with countless obstacles and crushing letdowns, but in the end, it will all be worth it!
Words: Nermeen Kamel
Images: Courtesy of Nermeen Kamel