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Hello, I'm Jane Hutcheon. Welcome to the program where my guest is a leading figure
of the Arabic cinema world. He's actor, director
and activist Khaled Abol Naga. Known as Egypt's Brad Pitt,
he trained as a spacecraft engineer but along the way found his true
passion as an actor and director. Then came the Arab Spring in 2011 and Khaled Abol Naga
found a new stage, speaking out for the oppressed. He recently directed the Arab version
of the musical Oliver with a cast made up
of Syrian refugees.

Khaled Abol Naga,
welcome to One Plus One. It's great to have you in Australia.
Thank you for having me. You are an actor, a director
as well as being an activist. Can I ask you, when was the moment that you knew that it was important
for you to step beyond the camera, away from the camera
and have your voice heard? I cannot stand unfairness and
I cannot stand this happening to, especially to youth,
to young people. When there are people put in jail
for wearing a T-shirt, saying no to something,
for an opinion. And that, unfortunately, is
happening in our part of the world. And I believe if you're
an honest person...

..let alone being
an honest artist, you have to step up and be that,
you know, dagger, knife - you name it - to stop that,
to say no to that. And that's all I do,
I'm not an activist. I simply stand up
to unfair situations. Do you remember the first time you were confronted
by a situation like that that made you feel you couldn't
just be a bystander? Yeah. There is an incident that
a lot of Egyptians, Egyptian youth, feel very strongly, which is the death of a young
Alexandrian boy, Khaled Saeed, brutally by police forces. For him to lose his life
because he didn't have is ID in an Internet cafe was outrageous and it became one of the triggers
of the revolution on 25 Jan 2011. So, yeah, that for example,
that stands out.

Unfortunately, incidents like this
are still happening and that's why we can't stop
shouting. I want to take you back to
five years ago, January 2011. People going out into the street,
taking over Tahrir Square. Did you join them immediately?

There is a funny story about that. 25 Jan 2011 was the premiere
of my film, Microphone. And we knew about the protests, we
never knew about a big revolution. There were protests,
like every other week. My director was going,
Ahmad Abdalla, and I was going. And we decided Ahmad Abdalla
would go a bit earlier and I might join later. But our premiere was around 6pm and it's in a cinema
far from Tahrir Square. So we all go in Nasr City,
near where I live. We all go to the premiere, Ahmad Abdalla is not there,
the director. We start doing the interviews
with a lot of TV channels and little by little, they get
phone calls and they start leaving and then we hear that there's
something in Tahrir Square, Ahmad is not responding. I ended up taking the car with my
driver and going to Tahrir Square. We were right there,
one side of the protesters, on the other side
all the police forces. Incredible moment. With my video camera,
I started taking videos and I was trying to liberate
my director from my premiere and ended up trying to liberate
Tahrir Square, really. And that was the seed of
a documentary I started and never finished called
Tahrir El Tahrir - Liberating Liberation Square. That's how I ended up from that day
onwards every day with the, you know, millions of people coming
from all over Egypt to protest. I'll ask you about the documentary
in a moment, but how did that feel as an Egyptian to be
standing out there? It felt amazing. It felt that finally people
can unite under one voice saying and telling everyone else
that we deserve better, this country deserves better. Enough corruption... The slogan that we had adopted,
from the Tunisians, really, "Aish, huriyya, karama insaniyya" -
"Bread, freedom and social justice." And these were the three main goals, like the French Revolution
had three main goals, and it felt incredibly uniting. It's almost like an awakening
that you thought would never happen and it's just happening,
it's like a dream come true. Everybody felt this is the time
we can all stand up for this country and have a dream that unites
us all for a better Egypt. But five years on, your documentary
isn't finished and neither, really,
is the revolution. Absolutely, well said.
It's not finished. The dream is still there. Unfortunately, we have... We went one step forward
with the revolution 25 Jan 2011. One step backward with the elections
that brought the Muslim Brotherhood in power because they basically
took over, President Morsi started taking
complete control, creating another dictatorship. Which then led to us
going back to the streets, trying to get rid of that rule. Which again, would've been
one step forward, but then we got the military back in power
with the complete police control and no protests now allowed,
which is two steps backwards. But the dream is there. It's unfinished, but it's alive. Can we talk a little bit
about your early life now? Yes.
You were born in Cairo. You have five brothers and sisters. Can you tell me, what were some of the more defining
experiences of your childhood? How do you remember Cairo
when you were a small boy? Heliopolis was quite calm
and serene. A suburb of Cairo? A suburb of Cairo.
Very nice to grow up in. The nice thing about it is that
it didn't have a lot of classes, different classes. Most of the people
were the same middle-class, so we never felt at all
there is a difference. We learned a lot about being equal, I think, being brought up
in Heliopolis. I understand that your parents
divorced when you were about 14. Separated.
They separated. Was that difficult for you? I guess, but I didn't
really realise it because I had a lot
of brothers and sisters who kind of parented me,
so I didn't really feel that void. Actually, I felt over-parented. Because every brother of mine
wanted his own opinion and he wanted me
to agree with his opinion. Same thing with the girls. I either ended up being
have no opinion whatsoever or have a very different opinion,
which was quite hard. But I think I kind of started
to have an opinion of my own... ..in the teenage time. And this is when I started
finding myself doing crazy things like writing an illegal... Or not illegal, an undercover
magazine in the school where we used to write
articles about our teachers. Um... Did that circulate? Yes, and we were caught. We were caught, unfortunately. And yeah, and we ended up doing
an interview with the headmaster. I heard that your father was
originally a member of the military. Yes. And that he fought
in the 1948 war for Palestine. Yes. That must have been an incredibly
defining experience for him. How did you learn about it? By accident. I was looking into an old box
my mom kept and it had postcards and these postcards
came from Palestine with beautiful nature and trees. I love those cedar trees
of Palestine. And they were all love letters
before we were all born and he was sending
those love letters to my mom until he comes back and so on
and I found that very romantic. I never thought that
one day, I would be standing maybe under one of the same trees
that my father had a postcard of. Well, let's talk a little bit
about that film, since you've brought it up. That was Eyes Of A Thief.
Yes. It was actually screened
in Australia last year as part of several film festivals. And it's a great film about a man, a Christian Palestinian
who's looking for his daughter. But there's a whole
subtext to the story. Now, was that the first time you
actually got to go to the Palestinian territories? Absolutely, and I loved it. What was that like for you? I loved it, I thought
it was a dream come true. Because I suppose people in
this part of the world think, "Oh, he's from that
part of the world, "of course he can
go anywhere he wants." Not at all, no.
But it's under Israeli control still. So, you would have had to get
special permission to go there. Especially for Egyptians,
believe it or not, it's very hard. Although Egypt has a peace treaty
with Israel and we're supposed to easily go across the border,
but it's not easy at all. It's a... It took, it was almost
like a miracle to have that done, especially when you're
going there to make a movie. And then, you know,
you go through the whole scrutiny.

But we ended up finding a way
through the Ministry of Culture, Palestinian culture. And I have to tell you that
one week before shooting the film, we didn't know
if I'm going to be there. I was across in Jordan, I was
waiting for that permit to come.

And day after day, nothing and then
the producer came across the border and came to me and had meetings and
maybe we had a plan B just in case. I was really sad. But we were lucky,
we got it and we shot the film. We shot the film in a record
number of days as well, so to be able to finish it
before the permit ends. So, I heard that it
was about 25 days. 25 days. Which does seem to be a very fast,
a very short amount of time. A lot of people don't
realise that Egyptian cinema has got this incredible reputation. It's really Hollywood in Arabic. Were you always aware of that history when you chose to go in
to the business? We all in the whole Middle East,
in the Arab world, we grew up watching Egyptian films
and it's part of our, you know...

Education and heritage, yeah. And it comes without saying that
we all have these iconic films and scenes engraved in our memory
of beautifully made films, actors, producers and directors. Um... To the world, we offered only a few, maybe Omar Sharif would be one
the people know, of course. But yes,
we have this amazing heritage. If you made a film festival
anywhere in the world showing this, the black and white
golden era of Egyptian films, you'd be amazed of how they were up
to the standard of international black and white films
and great stars that the Western world would know. And I would really like to do that
one day, maybe in the future, to really make this showcase
of Egyptian old films and tour the world with them. Maybe in parallel with
their counter same year, black and white European
and Western films to show what was going on at the
same time in different cinemas. It's a great idea. Can you tell me? You were cast in a film
at the age of 12. How did you get that part? My brother was married to a
very famous star, Naglaa Fathi. And she, at that time, also used
to be our neighbour, our friend. She used to just come under our
building and would, like, whistle and then my brother would go out. So, I went out and
she said, "Come down." And she talked to my mom,
she was going to a shooting, they were casting
for a child in a film. I had no idea. And somehow, my mom said OK
and I went down and I loved it. (SPEAKS ARABIC) And I remember that day, I had a twisted ankle
and I couldn't walk well. And then when they shot the casting
scene, I didn't, I walked fine. So, the director asked me,
"But you're in pain?" I said yes. He said, "I want him. "If he can be in pain and still
walk normally, he's an actor." Well, OK. (LAUGHS) So, that's how I was chosen,
this how it happened. Did that plant the seed in your head
that you wanted to be an actor? No, I think it happened earlier,
but I never really pursued it. I used to do little plays at home
and bring my nieces and nephews and make a little play
and bring everybody to watch.

Um... But never pursued it
until I finished engineering and I did a minor in theatre
and this is how it all came back. Did your mum have any expectation
of what she wanted you to be? Not really. They never really... Nobody in my family
ever told me what to do. They kind of just let me
do whatever I wanted and I really wanted to study
engineering, especially architecture,
in the beginning. And then I changed my mind to
telecommunication and electronics, and then spacecraft design
and other things. And it was always that minor in
theatre that came back to me and...

..that calling
I know that it happened one day, but I never really, you know,
put one and one together. I can't let you go without asking you
about the satellite that you helped to put in the sky,
isn't that right? Yeah, well, I was lucky that when
I wanted to do some extra studies, which was in my Masters in the UK, it was the University of Surrey, I was very lucky to be a part of the
University of Surrey satellite, UoSAT-5, which is a small
experimental satellite that was, we were lucky again, to
have Arianespace to put it on space. So, for years after,
we were following our satellite. It's still up there, isn't it? Yes, I hope so. Yes. (LAUGHS) With your great credentials
and also your English, you could act, perform, direct
anywhere in the world. I know you have done a film
in North America, I think it was called
Civic Duty in 2007. Mm-hm. Is that something
that adds a kind of allure for you and other Arabic
actresses and actors, you know, wanting to make it
in Hollywood? Well, to tell you the truth,
that happened by chance. They sent me an email
and they found me through IMDb.com So, the internet. So, when I got that movie and it did
well up in New York, I thought, "Maybe I don't have to have an agent
and I can just... "..you know,
the internet age is here," but I was wrong
and this is what I'm fixing now. So, this is the time
when I'm getting an agent and then doing it the right way. But I really never wanted to pursue
acting in Hollywood, per se, but I don't mind acting
in any language. My last film was
with a Palestinian accent and that was, for an Egyptian actor,
like a very hard thing. The opposite would happen. Usually Egyptian actors
would act in their dialect and everybody would understand
that dialect because of the history
of the cinema, the Egyptian cinema. But I really, really enjoy it
and I think it's part of my work, you know, to do other accents
and languages. I have to ask you this because I love
to ask actors about auditions. Most of them,
particularly when they're beginning, absolutely despise auditions
and the process. What's your take on auditions? I love them.
Yeah? I actually try to play tricks
with auditions. Really? How so?
Yeah. I... You know, sometimes
they send you sides for a role and you have an eye
on the other role, so usually what you do is you get someone to say
the other lines and you answer. So, once, for example, it was
a casting for an Ang Lee production. He didn't do it in the end, but... And I wanted to do the other role,
so I put the camera on, I shot all one character, but I switched the camera
and I read the other character and then I edited it together,
so I was... I did both and I sent it as it is
as a joke, or maybe as a trick.

Yeah, I think I got an email
from the casting director saying, "Ang Lee sent you this message - "'I love, love, love
Khaled Abol Naga.'" I was like, "OK." He never ended up
doing that project, but I loved the experience. You are a UNICEF ambassador
and also, a few months ago, you directed an incredible musical
production of Oliver in Arabic and the kids were Syrian refugees. 'Cause, of course, there are so many. I think there's about half a million
Syrian refugees in Jordan. What was that like to meet these kids who really have been
through hell and back? I always felt these kids
have an angel...

..you know, a guardian angel. Everything, EVERYTHING we went
through in this project that felt it would never happen -
we didn't have money, we didn't have anything, we didn't have any backing
of any sort - and somehow we ended up succeeding
to make a very professional... With orchestra, a great writer, Zeinab Mobarak,
who wrote it in Arabic and it's very hard to write
rhyming Arabic on the same music. And she did a fantastic job. And the kids, for months training... Every week I thought... Somebody's saying,
"This will never happen. "We don't even have a theatre,
what are you talking about? "We don't even have costumes.
We don't have money, we don't..." But it happened
and with great success and with standing ovations
for three nights. (CHILDREN SING IN ARABIC)

I think it's the best thing
that ever happened to me, not to the kids, because it taught
me, again, how theatre is important and how dedication, patience,
working as a team, keeping positive and optimistic and believing in yourself
and in your team ends up always paying,
always paying. And I think it was the best lesson
for me and to give to those kids. You have been talking to us
about how seeing... ..inequality really annoys you. I suppose in Australia, our preoccupation, at the moment,
would be with Islamic or Islamist extremism. I wonder when you're talking
to a broad group of people from outside Egypt, how do you explain what has happened over the last five, 10, 15 years
with this process with people who are not
necessarily religious, adopting Islamic views
for quite violent purposes? How do you explain that? I have a theory.

If you have a little bit
of injustice and you don't treat it,
it will grow. And as your guest Jackie French beautifully said
in your episode with her, I watched that, when she said, "Hatred is infectious, "yet also kindness." And you have to do something. You have to switch hatred
to kindness, otherwise hatred will keep growing. I think this is what happened
in the Middle East. When you have people... The Palestinian conflict
in the heart of the Middle East. When you leave those people
and their conflict unsolved with unfairness
for so long, creating a state based on religion
that is segregating Palestinians, Muslims or Christians
from Jewish people, creating a Jewish state, after some time, of course,
this hatred will come across to the others, the other side,
and they will also want to create their own Islamic state, based on the same hatred,
based on the same violence and create that Islamic state. So, there's a Jewish state
that made that segregation and that is the seed, I think,
that created that. And... So, you mean, you're drawing a direct
line from the Palestinian territory right through to ISIS?
Absolutely, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, I'm not giving
them any kind of, of course... Credibility.
..credibility. But this is how hatred
breeds hatred, how violence breeds violence. Yet also kindness is infectious. And we need those kind,
those wise voices now, more than ever, to switch this hatred into peace. To switch this violence into love. And it's possible.
I believe it's possible. Do you see that kindness?
Absolutely, it's there. We need to have these voices. We have to have these voices... These kids who end up being in ISIS, fighting for whatever reasons, where do they come from? They come from broken hearts, they come from a moment
when they don't have any hope. I see where they come from. And we really have to go there,
visit that part and find out how to be
with people who are broken-hearted, broken...with broken dreams
and solve that. And they come from
all over the world, not only from the Middle East and I think that's the key
to rewind this. Otherwise, it's going to just
burn us all. It's just going to keep on growing. I interviewed a former extremist
on this program very recently and he said, "We need to show
Muslim role models succeeding. "The cool thing should not be going
to jihad but going into politics, "winning gold medals,
being a film producer." They need to see
that they can succeed in Britain and their societies. Would you agree with that? I totally agree with that and
I agree even with more than that. I would love, I would love
our own governments to see that. To see that youth and...and youth having an opinion,
in general, is a gem. And they should invest in them and
they should always be encouraged. The problem is a lot of youth
in the Middle East are being condemned
for having an opinion, are being put aside for having
an opinion and that's the problem. When they're broken, when they don't
have this energy to have an opinion, they become the seed
or they become the source for any kind of violence
and extremism then. And that's the problem. We need to stop fighting
our own youth and encouraging them and giving them hope. You spoke about the impact of the
Palestinian conflict on the psyche, I suppose, of young Muslim kids,
young kids in the Arab world. What about when you hear
what Israel says about the deaths that are occurring on their side
at the hands of young Palestinians? Yes, of course, it's the same,
as I said, hatred generates hatred and violence will generate violence. And the only way to break that
is by kindness, is by having these wise voices. I met a lot of amazing Jewish
people, when I was shooting, talking to me about how
they want an end to this and they see a solution
in one country or two countries or whatever. And I can see those voices
and I hear them, but they're not in the media,
I don't see them in the media and they're overtaken by the,
you know, overwhelming political use of the conflict. And that's what I would like to,
you know, tell the world. And the people, at the end, want peace and they want to live
together and it's time to stand up. I believe politics always
will use religious reasons, any kind of reasons to gain things,
to gain the politicians and this system will always keep
using any conflict instead of solving any conflict. Same thing in all parts
of the world, really. I have to end on a funny question. You have been described both as the George Clooney
of the Arab world and also the Brad Pitt. Right. I wonder, which one do you prefer?
And why? I prefer not to be like anyone,
I prefer to be myself. You know, so... Maybe one day they'll be describing Brad Pitt
as the Khal Abol Naga of America. I wouldn't anybody
to be described as anybody. I think everybody's work
speaks for itself. I only wish that my work is seen
as enough as Brad Pitt and George Clooney, hopefully. Well, don't we all. Khaled Abol Naga,
it's been a great pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us on One Plus One.
Thank you for having me. Thank you. One Plus One is available on iview, you can browse the archive or contact us through the website. Stay in touch and leave comments via Facebook, you can also follow me on Twitter. I look forward to your company next time. From me, goodbye. Captions by Ericsson Access Services Copyright Australian
Broadcasting Corporation

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