Abo Zabaal Prison 1989

Bassam Mortada (director) & Ahmed Abuelfadl (editor)



Bassam, a filmmaker and activist, reaches out to his estranged father. He revisits and reconstructs traumatic memories of his father's political arrest and torture in 1989, which had decisive ramifications on Bassam and his mother. Can an immersive experience with their painful memories help them heal and move on?

Project Description

Bassam was 5 years old when his father Mahmoud was taken in the middle of the night. A few days later his mother prepared fish and took her son to Abo Zabaal prison. 30 years later Bassam feels isolated and distant from his father. He decides to revisit and reconstruct these memories and trace the ramifications of what happened. He starts with that very morning. With 16 MM film, he creates his distorted memories of that morning. He looks back with the camera at the events that triggered lasting traumas for him. At the same time he starts a new journey with his father and spends time with him, organizing an apartment the father has just moved into. His father has moved many times. They initiate conversations about his imprisonment and the events that caused his father to abandon them for years and leave Egypt to Vienna. Why was Abo Zabaal different? What happened there? Bassam attempts to put himself in his father’s shoes back then, filming himself as a prisoner recreating those painful memories of his father. He also finds the audio tapes his father used to send him when he left them to Vienna. For the first time in 20 years, they listen to these tapes. Bassam also visits his mother Fardous, she recalls her unrecognized trauma and disappointment with the father. As a mother, she did not have the luxury to break down or leave. Fardous tried everything to make Mahmoud stay. Bassam discovers that Egyptian actor Sayed Regab, who was imprisoned with father in 1989 had written a dramatic monologue. To give tribute to these memories, Bassam sets up a unique stage performance. He brings the families of the prisoners as the audience giving a home to these painful memories. Abo Zaabal Prison 1989 consists of three visual layers following the narrative layers of the film. Over the course of the film we move smoothly between memories flashbacks and dreams experimentally portrayed, a stage performance projecting some of the memories, and the present intimate time shared by Bassam with his father, mother and small circle of influence. The layers overlap, moving between the raw to digital, between confusion to understanding between pain to healing. The memories are created in 16mm film in a distorted abstract way like raw film. Bassam will take part in the experience himself being in his fathers shoes. It will be connected with the stage performance, Bassam watches himself as a child in front of a projection on the screen in the theater that would be used for the Monologue with Sayed Ragab later on in the film. These memories are created to be part of the protagonist's self exploration.

Bassam Mortada

Bassam Mortada is a director, producer and activist. He is also a co-founder of See media production. He studied Independent filmmaking at the Jesuite Cairo Cinema School. As an independent filmmaker, Mortada worked with a number of independent institutions, NGOs, activists, to document their life, struggle and work. In 2008, Mortada joined Al-Masry Media Corporation as a creative producer and director where he helped set up the first independent Web-documentary TV in Egypt. He trained many journalists and managed to create a team of young filmmakers. His first feature documentary Reporting...a Revolution premiered in the Berlinale film festival in Berlin 2012 and toured many festivals worldwide. Mortada then moved to start his own independent production See Media Production with producers Kesmat EL Sayed and Mai Saad to focus on developing his creative feature documentary Abo Zabaal prison 1989 and support others. Since then he has also directed three short documentaries, one of which Waiting for his Descent won the first prize for documentary at the Jesuite film festival. Searching for Ghazalaa premiered at the Cairo International film festival.

Ahmed Abuelfadl

A writer, director, editor, colorist, Vblogger and trainer Ahmed Abuelfadl had studied dentistry in Cairo University, practicing dentistry for 3 years, before he decided to follow his passion for filmmaking and make the career shift. He went back and studied Filmmaking in Cairo’s Higher Institute of Cinema. After graduation he worked in various creative roles. Then he directed his first short documentary film in 2013, Cairo from 5 to 7, followed by a short fiction film Amin which premiered at the Cairo international film festival and several other regional festivals. On the educational front he teaches filmmaking for postgraduates in Ain Shams University as well as in Jesuit Cairo film school and has an online module on editing on the educational platform Yanfaa.com. His vlogs are educational and entertaining; they analyse films and films genres.

Project Index

Abo Zabaal Prison 1989



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