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Pharaohs on Film

With Egypt so close to qualifying for the World Cup in the first time nearly 25 years, an American documentary team is following the Pharaohs and manager Bob Bradley in their rise to glory. Timmy Mowafi speaks to Copper Pot Pictures...

I walked up the concrete steps and heard the mammoth sound of 70,000 people chanting in unison, a sound which I had previously only experienced diluted through TV speakers. The power, fluidity and energy that surged through and around me, accented by the perfect green pitch and sea of red, was more cinematic then any 3D IMAX extravaganza I have or probably ever will experience. Egypt was hosting the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations and it was their first match against Libya, which they won 3-0. They ended up winning their fifth trophy that year, and twice more in 2008 and 2010.The street party which erupted after their most recent win meant much more than Egypt getting their hands on the ACN trophy again: it probably pinpointed the first time in the history of Mubarak’s rule that the people overcame the state. Crowds were not scared to go out on the street, disrupt traffic, start fires, have their voices heard and Egypt’s police force couldn’t do much more than stand by and watch. I do believe that moment has stayed in the collective consciousness of many Egyptians, and helped dispel fears of public protest ahead the 25th of January revolution.

Since then, however, the Pharaohs’ track records  has been pretty dismal, paralleling the downfall of the country as a whole; a country whose socioeconomic stability has fallen to pieces worse than Mido in the penalty area. Egypt failed to even qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, and haven’t made it to the World Cup since a bleak effort in Italy 1990 which saw them go out in the first round. Last February, the tragic events in Port Said Stadium left the league in shatters and it looked like the end of Egypt’s footballing glory for good.

But now, something’s happening. As if out of nowhere, we suddenly have a team made up of young, über-talented individuals plying their trade in big European leagues. The likes of Ahmed El Mohammady, Ahmed Fathi and Gedo (all at Hull City, Premier League), Ahmed Hegazy (Fiorentina, Serie A) Mohammed Saleh and Mohamed ElNeny (both at Basel, Swiss Super League) now make up the core of an Egyptian team that, managed by former US manager Bob Bradley, is in touching distance from qualifying from Brazil 2014, after beating Mozambique last month and finishing top of their group with maximum points. And that’s where Copper Pot Pictures comes in, mirroring that cinematic feeling I once felt at Cairo Stadium, they are currently documenting the rise of Egypt’s national football team as they strive for World Cup glory in a film titled We Must Go

Founded in 2007 by Dave LaMattina, Chad Walker and Clay Frost, the American film company specialises in creating diverse, niche documentaries that, paradoxically, have universal appeal. They’ve put out endlessly intriguing productions such as 2013’s I Am Big Bird which follows the story of Caroll Spinney, the man who has played Sesame Street’s Big Bird since 1969 or Brownstones To Red Dirt which compares the development of kids from housing projects in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn and war orphans living in Freetown, Sierra Leone. So, with such a varied filmography, how did they end up making a film about Egypt’s national team? “I was sitting in the stadium in Rustenburg when the US lost to Ghana in the 2010 World Cup, texting with Chad about how we needed to make a World Cup documentary because it's such a cinematic event. At that point, we began researching a number of stories and when Bob Bradley was named the manager of the Pharaohs, we knew we had a fascinating story,” director LaMattina told us. It seems like as perfect a time as ever in history to film the Egyptian team, and that isn’t a coincidence as co-director Walker explains: “Egypt is a fascinating country - it's a place that has always captured the world's attention. The revolution is, of course, part of the rich tapestry that has impacted Egyptian history and culture and will certainly play a role in the film. We’re interested to see if the Pharaohs can unite all of these voices behind the same cause.” 

The Copper Pot teams have been with Egypt filming at every qualifying match since last year and it’s been smooth sailing so far. “The players are great and are very accepting of the fact that the few Arabic words we do know are spoken with a horrific American accent! We really enjoy them,” says producer Clay Frost, sentimants matched by Walker was also pretty chuffed by the hug he received from Egypt’s own Big Bird, Ahmed Hegazy, during the huge celebrations for reaching the final qualifying round for 2014.

At the moment, Egypt’s relationship with the US is more acrimonious than ever. With an American coaching the team, it certainly gives an edge to the story being told in We Must Go, but the film promises to not just focus on the odd partnership as Walker tells us: “That first word ‘WE’ is critical to our view for the film. We came to the story interested in Bob as a ‘fish out of water’ but quickly realised it would be a disservice to the rest of the team, and the country, to make it just about Bob.  It's focusing on the country as a whole -Bob and the players are a part of that.”

With the second revolutionary wave of protests in Egypt that synchronised with the riots in Brazil which oppose their hosting of the World Cup for socioeconomic reasons, you can’t help but think it’s almost written in the stars for Egypt to go far in 2014’s competition. Even if they don’t, the show, as they say, must go on, as Walker continues: “This isn't just a film about football, it's using football as a lens through which people can view Egypt. Obviously, we hope for the team and country (and ourselves!) that the Pharaohs make it to Brazil, but if they don't the film will still be finished. We’re hoping for happy ending.”

And what if Egypt and the US both make it? “Let's just hope they don't play each other... though that would be awesome for our film!”

Keep up to date with Copper Pot Pictures and the We Must Go documentary by following them on Twitter or visit WeMustGoMovie.com