Abu Dhabi, Reuters—After working as a war cameraman for 18 years, and getting injured twice along the way, Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Al-Batout decided to get away from the real-life violence and make movies.
But his latest venture El Ott (The Cat), which premiered this week at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, does not shy away from violence.
The movie stars Egyptian actor Amr Waked—who most recently appeared alongside Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s Lucy—as a gangster searching for his kidnapped daughter, a quest that exposes the grimmest side of life in Cairo’s slums.
In one of the opening scenes, organ traffickers remove the kidneys from kidnapped street children, dumping their bodies. A girl is saved from the same fate only when her kidnappers decide they can make more money selling her off into a child marriage.
“I specifically said to myself this time I want to see blood and I want to see violence in this film because it hurts me. It hurts me to know that we have more than 4 million homeless kids on the street and it hurts to see how women are dealt with as a commodity in this part of the world,” Batout told Reuters.
A recent study by the Egyptian government put the number of street children at 3 million while some non-governmental organisations say it is 4 million.
The 51-year-old director, who has won awards for his documentaries, started making feature films in 2004. The Cat is his fifth and, by far, most violent movie.
“When I started making fiction it was because I hated reality so I wanted to create a reality that I could deal with,” Batout said.
The overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 meant Batout witnessed some of the kind of violence he had seen in conflicts in Iran, Iraq, Rwanda and Chechnya, but this time in his own country.
“It caused me to re-live all what I was escaping from in my films,” Batout said. “I had been careful before not to project too much negativity on the viewers but then I thought: ‘What am I doing? Why am I covering this up?”
From organ trafficking to child marriages, The Cat tackles problems that are little explored in Egyptian cinema.
The film’s star, Waked, worked on a documentary in the slum neighborhood where the movie was shot, and met dozens of people who had sold their kidneys for less than 1,500 US dollars.
“Can you imagine it was for as little as that? You have people who are poor and who are working three shifts to support their families but it is still not enough,” Waked said.
Batout added: “It’s like so many things that don’t make sense in our lives, things that are not logical at all and somehow we continue to live with them. So making movies about them becomes one way of healing for me.”
Despite tackling women’s rights, there are no big female roles in the movie, something Batout said was a deliberate choice.
“They are not there because that is what it is like for them in the real world, it is the men who are dominating.”
The Cat is the second collaboration between Batout and Waked, who believes the subject matter will have global appeal and will cause a stir in Egyptian cinemas.
“I think it will definitely be controversial,” the actor said.