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Excerpt from 500 Great Books By Women: A Reader's Guide, Peguin Books 1994. ed Erica Bauerimeister, Jesse Larsen and Holly Smith, pp. 373-74:
The contrasts in Laila Abou-Saif's life are many. Born and raised in Cairo, she grew up in a family that valued education for both men and women, and arranged marriages for their children. After her college graduation she endured a seven-year marriage to a man chosen by her family. An Arab woman raised in the Coptic church, a Christian minority in Egypt, she developed an awareness of all the citizens of her country and began to question the true costs of the ongoing religious war with Israel. During a performance for injured soldiers in Cairo, where she taught theater at the Academy of Arts, she realized that "in order to reach the masses, Egyptian theater must retain its indigenous roots, must remain visual, physical, and musical." Using this insight, she put herself at odds with the politicians in power by challenging the government's actions in her productions. During the forty days of mourning the death of a family member, in seclusion with other women, she was inspired to film a documentary on Egyptian women. When the finished film was shown in New York City, its feminist approach threatened and angered many Egyptian officials, who retaliated by denying her access to local theaters. Despite her experiences, Laila Abou-Saif's love of her homeland is consistently felt throughout her autobiography as we come to know this vulnerable yet determined woman, honest about her faults, and committed to her beliefs.
Middle East Journal, is now available in a new edition,with an introduction which deals with the events of the Arab world, after the September attacks in 200l.
WRITER, DIRECTOR, ACTOR, EDUCATOR
American University, Cairo, Egypt, B.A.
University of Chicago, M.A.
University of Illinois, Urbana, PhD
Pace University, New York, NY, Instructor of Theater
Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, CN, Instructor of Theater
Univ. ofNew Haven, New Haven, CN, Instructor of Literature and Composition
Macmillan Publishing Co., New York, NY, Writer
Centeri'or Research on Women, Stanford, University, Visiting Scholar
Cornell College, Mount Vernon, lA, Instructor of Theater
Columbia University, New York, NY, Instructor of Asiab Theater
Cairo University, Cairo, Egypt, Instructor of Drama
Lawrence University, Appleton, WI
Director of Plays, including: Henry IV, Hakim Theatre, 1974; Hassan wa Naima, Wekelat-alGhouri Theatre, 1976; Mother Courage, Citadel Theatre, 1981; Ring Around the Moon, Cornell College, 1984; La Ronda, Southern Connecticut State Theatre, 1984; Saadawi, American Place Theatre, New York City, 1986 Director of Films, including the Egyptian TV play The Birth ofa Hero, 1974; and documentaries Where is my Freedom? 1978, and Enaba, Aziza, wa A beer, 1981 Acting Roles, including Lady Hurf in Thieves Carnival; Murya in Riders to the Sea, Inez in No Exit, Lady Bracknell in The Importance ofBeing Earnest, Mme. Desmortes in Ring Around the Moon, and the title role in Saadawi
WRITINGS: Middle East Journal, Vantage Books, June 2002 A Bridge Through Time: A Memoir, Simon & Schuster (New York), 1985 (under pseudonym Laila Said), reprinted under name Laila Abou-Saif, foreword by Gloria Steinem, Lawrence Hill Books (New York), Quartet Books, London, 1993 Middle East Journal: A Woman's Journey into the Heart ofthe Arab World, Chas. Scribner & Son (New York), 1990 Najib al-Rihani and the Development of Comedy in Egypt, Dar al-Ma'aref (Cairo), 1972
WHERE IS MY FREEDOM (Egypt) 1978
Producer, Director, Screenwriter: Laila Abou-Saif
Editor: Adel Mounor
Cinematographer: Ramsis Marzouk
16 mm, color, 85 minutes
WHERE IS MY FREEDOM had its world debut on June 4, 1978 at the Bleeker Street Cinema in New York City. A personal, feminist vision, the film according to Abou-Saif, is a result of her experience as a working woman in Egypt. It was inspired by the death of her younger sister, a feminist, in winter '77. According to Egyptian custom, Abou-Saif mourned her sister for 40 days. During this time she lived within an almost entirely feminine community. Afterwards she "was imbued with the agony and consciousness of my countrywomen."
Abou-Saif filmed highly successful professional women. Each of her subjects shares a spirit of defiance and a burning, indefatigable desire "to be something." They succeeded despite laws, social mores and religious sanctions which worked against them. Abou-Saif admits that such a woman must work at least 10 times harder than any man.
Interviewees include one of the first women to remove her veil in public, a painter jailed five years because of her political beliefs, a school teacher, a social worker, a lawyer and the owner of a pharmacy. There is also footage of women in divorce courts, village women and, in general, women of Egypt's lower classes.
Although WHERE IS MY FREEDOM is her first film, Abou-Saif is a well known figure on the Egyptian scene. She received a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois and taught theatre in the Midwest before returning to Cairo in 1973 to teach at the Egyptian Academy for the Performing Arts. In 1974 she directed a videotape "Birth of a Hero" for Egyptian television and between 1973 and 1978 she directed 10 plays in Cairo. She is the only woman to teach acting and stage direction in her native country.
"I Want My Freedom" is a film that is both true to Egyptian women, and true for women everywhere. It is literally life in film; the best possible use of an artist's talents - and Laila Abou-Saif is a rare and true artist." --Gloria Steinem
"I found it a continually fascinating view of Egypt, not as a tourist attraction, or a "Third World" problem, but as a place where a great many people with whom I could identify are working out problems of identity, status, and cultural adaptation, not too dissimilar to ones we have known in our own country . . . That so complex a story should be told with such skill and clarity in a first film is truly remarkable."
--George Stoney, Professor of Film, New York University
ENABA, AZIZA, WA ABEER
Producer, director, Scriptwriter, Cameraperson: Laila Abou-Saif
Editor: Maher Abdel-Malik
Sound: Hamdi Gretli
super 8, color
A southern village, 60 miles south of Cairo, opens its doors and its hearts, and the women speak out. In a series of short sequences, they talk of their roles as peasant women, their work, their hardships. They talk about childbearing, contraception, and exision.
We see them at work, at home, in their little mud houses, tending their children, or in the fields, feeding the cows, the water buffaloes, gathering the crops, irrigating the fields, alongside their men.
Prominent in the film are Enaba, Aziza and Abeer. Enaba, a 14-year-old girl, is fully aware of the lot of her village women, but she would like to change things, see women get educated, and work, as human beings, not as cows. Aziza describes herself as a cow. A 30-year-old mother of three, she sees her limited role due to illiteracy. She candidly describes the life of a peasant woman in Egypt. Abeer is only seven years old. She lives in Cairo. Her mother works as a maid. It is her exision which is filmed. She is inarticulate, except when it comes to her suffering. Then she "speaks" for all those millions of girls who are exised on the African continent.
"Enaba, Aziza wa Abeer" presents the life of Egyptian rural women in an authentic way. A great achievement." --Fran Hoskem
"Some of the footage included in the film is so controversial that even Egypt's handful of feminists have indicated that they dare not interfere."
--Joan Borsten, The Los Angeles Times