Seif Abdallah did not need fancy cameras or equipment to provide us with a film with a nuanced, philosophical outlook on life.
It was the 2016 Cannes Film Festival's short film nominations that revolutionised our outlook and perception on what it takes to make an internationally-renowned film: iPhone 6s Plus. And no, it's not to take selfies with stars – it's to make actual films. Seif Abdallah, the 25-year-old Los Angeles Film School graduate, takes us on a journey to familiar and unfamiliar realms, where we discover the different layers of our lives and what it means to be present, absent and in between.
It's hard to know where to begin with this film because the film in itself used the reverse engineering method; which essentially does storytelling from end to start. Wait, it's not what you actually think – imagine a puzzle with all its pieces, but the other way around. "First, I shot all the footage, and then, I created a story," Abdullah explains. He recounts that he went out, and started taking videos and photos of everything around him, with no actual plan, just with the intention of finding hidden beauty – whether that came in the form of friends, abandoned homes, or strangers.
Although he had experimented with mobile phone filmmaking previously, such as his series two-part series Cairolyptic and Egytopia, where he envisioned Cairo in a state of apocalypse, and dived into themes of finding beauty in the chaos of abandoned villas and slums along the Ring Road, Norhan was special. This film explored similar themes but on a much personal, and introspective level, "I was fascinated by the concept of death and layers of consciousness" Abdallah says.
Something about the name itself, makes us wonder, is it about a girl or woman, is it about a hopeless romantic in love with someone of that name? No. As we said, he took the footage, then made the story. The name Norhan was in some of the footage he took, a name, like many, that we pass by each and every single day. The film itself, however, is divided into three stages, reflecting and representing the three stages of life: "The stages are introduced through an elevator going through three floors. It was the motif that tied everything together for me and helped me create a story. Each floor of the three represents a stage in life, the first being the downfalls, contradictions and constructions of our society, the second is the state of being aware through our precious memories and present moments, and finally, the third is about the places we leave behind when we leave and how they resonate with others," Abdallah clarifies. That's right, after watching Abdallah's 9-minute film, you will find yourself more immersed in a world that you will suddenly, whilst intently watching, realize is actually about you.
Among this very random footage that miraculously, tastefully and artistically became a film presented in the Short Film Catalogue at the 69th Cannes Festival in May 2016, you will find the name Norhan written with droopy ink on a wall, "I found the name in my footage, and when I looked up the meaning, it became apparent that it's a Farsi name that translates to 'light of the sun', that's really what it's all about. The light we see in life, the light we live by, and the light we see at the end," Abdallah reflects.
As for the iPhone 6s Plus' camera, Abdallah admits that he did indeed learn all about the fancy equipment and cameras in film school, but he had a different outlook on filmmaking, "A mobile camera is more accessible – with professional cameras, you face limitations, in expenses and legal procedures, and most of all, in how people perceive and react to you holding that camera to their face. A phone camera leaves people comfortable and natural in the footage, and they allow you to learn more about them and that really translates later into your work." The young filmmaker dubs the phone camera as a 'limitless medium' to capture faces, places, and tell their stories.
After having a viewing session with friends, they suggested he takes it over to the Cannes Festival online submissions for short experimental films, and although he thought it was far-fetched, he did it with as much grace, simplicity and confidence as it took to make his film. That's why, his advice for the upcoming filmmakers, dying to buy that professional camera, is that you don't actually need it – it's more than possible to start making films with little resources. He finally tells us, "The story is in your mind and your heart – that's your vision to manifest. Anyone who has a passion for this should just go out there and shoot with whatever they have!"
Check out Seif Abdallah's work on his Vimeo.