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Cannes film follows Egypt feminists on brink of adulthood

'On The Brink of Dreams' follows teenage girls in a rural part of Egypt
— Cannes (France) (AFP)

Filmmakers Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir spent so much time following an all-girl theatre troupe in a remote Egyptian village that at one point someone tried to sell them a house.

"He thought we were always there so we might as well live there," Riyadh told AFP after the premiere of their documentary at the Cannes Film Festival.

"The Brink of Dreams" follows a group of teenage girls in rural southern Egypt over four years, between rehearsals, as they navigate the tough decisions that will determine their adulthood.

Majda dreams of studying theatre in Cairo, Monika wants to become a famous singer and Haidi is being pursued by the hottest guy in the village.

In their feminist street performances, they boldly rail against the patriarchy, challenging members of the crowd on issues such as self-fulfilment and early marriage.

But soon life takes over and the teenagers from Egypt's Coptic Christian minority find themselves confronted with these concepts for real.

The camera discreetly captures conversations in the family shop, between a father and daughter, or two lovers, as neighbours and animals go about their daily lives.

"In the beginning there was a lot of people always looking at the camera. Everybody was self-conscious," said Riyadh.

But "once the trust had been built between them and us, we had that chance to blend in."

- 'Mind-blowing' -

Riyadh said the documentary, which is screening in a sidebar section of the festival, was driven by her and co-director Amin discovering the troupe in 2017.

The film "is intentionally feminist in every way but I think it was also dictated by what this inspiring group of women was already doing," she said.

It's "mind-blowing because they're demanding answers about very important things and opening a dialogue with everybody in their community."

Co-director Amin said the main challenge was editing down 100 hours of footage to tell this coming-of-age tale and convey a seldom seen side of Egypt.

"Most mainstream films in Egypt tell stories about living in gated compounds and shopping in malls," Amin said.

"It's very rare to see stories that take place in the south outside of Cairo or Alexandria and see girls like those girls on screen."

The documentary has a French distributor, but the filmmakers also hope to show the film widely in Egypt -- including in the rural south.

Until then, six of the actors in the film got to attend the Cannes premiere, after a last-minute rush to get them their first passports and visas on time.

Monika, the aspiring singer, has two children now. But on the red carpet, the DJ played the catchy song that she made with a popular Egyptian producer called Molotof for the film's final credits.