‘The Brink of Dreams’ Filmmakers Go Behind the Scenes of Their Critics’ Week Player in Cannes Docs Talk

Three days after its Critics’ Week world premiere, “The Brink of Dreams” director-producer team of Nada Riyadh and Ayman El Amir delved into the making of their documentary in an exclusive, behind-the-scenes conversation at the Palais des Festivals.

Hosted by the Cannes Docs sidebar of the Marché du Film, the conversation saw the Cairo-based Felucca Films duo offer insider intel and tips on their sophomore feature. Their debut feature, “Happily Ever After,” premiered at IDFA in 2016.

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“The Brink of Dreams” follows the compelling coming-of-age story of an all-female theatre troupe in a remote village in southern Egypt, who take to the streets to act out their plays denouncing underage marriage, domestic violence and patriarchy in a deeply conservative society.

Shot over four years, the film takes viewers on a compelling journey from childhood to womanhood, featuring intimate scenes within the girls’ families and close-up conversations between the protagonists and their fiancés, which never leave the viewer feeling intrusive but rather invited to share these moments.

Asked how they managed to get so close to their subjects, the pair explained that they developed a relationship of trust over several years and were gradually invited into their intimate spheres.

Most importantly, explained El Amir, “We wanted to find a small crew that could accompany us over the long course. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to make this film. The relationship was not just between them, their families and us, but between them and the crew, too. The challenge was to be not strangers but to be a part of this community so they could forget about the camera. And that happens over time.”

In 2017, Riyadh started working on the project by herself after meeting the girls through a feminist organization that supports artistic creations by women from disadvantaged communities.

But, she said, co-directing the film with El Amir, her partner both in work and in life, was a no-brainer. “I knew from the start I wanted to work with him, but could tell he didn’t necessarily want to commit. But I knew if I got him to meet the girls, he would want to do it.”

Indeed, after doing a workshop on storytelling with them, El Amir was smitten. “I had the spark with the girls, there was this connection and that’s when we started to prepare things together,” he said.

The film was a labor of love, requiring two years of research and four years of shooting. However, the pair knew they needed a European co-producer on board.

“Given the general situation – there was no national funding, and we had regional funding but not enough to shoot the whole film – we wanted a co-producer who would commit to our vision of the film,” said Riyadh.

When they met Claire Chassagne and Mark Irmer of Dolce Vita Films in 2021, they knew they had found a good fit. “They understood our story; Mark had produced films in our region before,” explained El Amir, adding: “We needed co-producers not only to finance the film but also for the creative process: we needed our film to reach international audiences.”

Also present at the talk in Cannes, Chassagne explained how she was involved in the editing process, “not because you want to censor – it’s Nada and Ayman’s baby, of course, it’s their vision – but as a producer, you know the industry, you understand the market,” she said, prompting instant backing from Riyadh, who emphasized the importance of letting the producers do their job and of letting go.

“It’s important to allow them to sell [your film]. If we heard some of their pitches, we might think, ‘Ah! That’s not what we’re trying to do,’ but they know their market, you must have trust, and letting people do the selling can be a good thing for your film,” she quipped with a smile.

“The Brink of Dreams” premiered at Critics’ Week on May 17 to a standing ovation. Six of the film’s main protagonists were present, treating the crowd on the Croisette to a live street theater performance during their stay in Cannes.

The film is produced by Riyadh and El Amir’s Felucca Films in co-production with Dolce Vita Films. The Party Film Sales is handling international sales. Dulac Distribution is in charge of French distribution, and a theatrical release is expected in early 2025.

Cannes Docs runs as part of the Cannes Film Market until May 21.

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