Amr Waked is one of those actors whose art is a product of his life, and for whom the personal is the political.
The Egyptian actor, who won Best Actor in the Muhr Arab Feature category for his Dubai International Film Festival movie, ‘Winter of Discontent’ on Sunday, was also in the city to attend the Oxfam gala dinner ‘One Night to Change Lives.’ held on the sidelines of the festival.
Waked became involved with Oxfam, a charity organisation that fights poverty, last year, when they approached him to endorse a campaign against hunger.
“I did immediately because I’m fond of what [it] does. I think organisations like that have an opportunity to actually make a better future for the people of the world,” he says.
The actor recently spent a weekend in Tanzania for the organisation during a trip focused on children and schools in the African country.
“I believe that the first step always, for any developmental project, is education, and that’s why, when Oxfam talked to me about Tanzania and the schools and the children, I was very interested because it matches my belief,” says Waked. “If you solve that education issue in any community, everything else will trickle down, and all the problems will be solved by the community.”
But it’s clear that Waked was not expecting what he saw in Tanzania.
As he describes how children there had to walk miles every day to get water from sources that are often not clean, taking hours out of their day where they could be in school, his face becomes increasingly serious.
“I never imagined that there are so many children that are deprived of their education for the simple reason of the lack of water, for the lack of sanitation,” Waked says.
The time he spent in Tanzania has inspired him to make a movie about the experience, one that Waked hopes will encourage people to contribute to Oxfam’s efforts. “I think the most logical way to look at this is to feel responsible and feel that you need to end this misery for a lot of people,” he says.
Waked’s own sense of responsibility is something that has been a driving force in his life and his work, outside his involvement with Oxfam. His film, ‘Winter of Discontent’, is set during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution and follows an activist, played by Waked, a journalist and a government security officer whose lives are changed during the revolution.
A political activist in real life, Waked was one of the first celebrities in Egypt to come out in support of the revolution, joining protesters on the streets to call for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. He sees the movie as a continuation of that activism.
“Eventually I’m an artist, and film is what I do best,” he says. “If I really want to contribute, it would be very efficient if I did what I do best.”
Waked feels strongly about the political situation in Egypt and continues to be involved. In fact, he had been due to attend Diff from its start on December 9, but postponed because of the escalating tensions in the country.
“I thought that we were on the verge of a civil war,” he says. “I really didn’t want to be away when this happens because I think I can contribute and influence people to take it easy a little bit, and also at the same time try to resist tyranny and dictatorship.”
Waked boycotted the parliamentary and presidential elections that took place in Egypt earlier this year. He says that the laws governing the election processes were unconstitutional and designed to give the Muslim Brotherhood an edge at the expense of the majority of revolutionaries, who are politically unorganised.
“I’m convinced that it’s a conspiracy,” he says. “Either a conspiracy because the army wants the Islamists because they like the Islamists, or the army wants to get rid of the Islamists, and I am kind of inclined to the latter.”
But despite this view, Waked says confidently that the revolution, “is still going on and it will keep going on until all dictatorship and tyranny and fascism are ended.”
He hopes that ‘Winter of Discontent’ will be released commercially in the region, allowing people who were unhappy with the Egyptian revolution to see its human aspect.
Waked’s upcoming projects also address issues that speak to him. He is working on a movie that analyses the source of conflict between Egypt’s Muslim majority and Christian minority, and he expects to begin shooting it in 2013. Another film in the works is set during the time of Caliph Haroun Al Rashid, which portrays the liberalism of the era’s Islamic scholars and scientists, and filming may begin in 2014.
In the meantime, Waked hopes that his movie with Oxfam will be a “call for action” that will help make a difference in the lives of the children he met in Tanzania.
“I’ve seen so many beautiful kids,” he says. “They’re marvellous, very smart, very intelligent, very confident, but they’re just missing a lot of their rights.”