Egypt’s Oscar submission “Voy! Voy! Voy!,” from director-writer-producer Omar Hilal, is a blackly comic look at migration viewed through the lens of a conman pretending to be visually impaired in order to play in the Blind Football World Cup. The fast-paced, entertaining film makes its Moroccan debut in the Special Screenings section of the Marrakech Film Festival. Following its September premiere in Egypt, it held the top box-office spot for two months and did remarkably well in the Gulf states.
The title translates as “Here I Come” in Spanish and is what the blind football players call out on the field to avoid collisions. But “Here I Come” could equally be the motto of its cheerily amoral protagonist Hassan (Mohamed Farrag), who is willing to try anything to escape his financially-challenged, dead-end life as a security guard.
Multi-hyphenate Hilal always wanted to make a film about migration. When he saw a news item about a group of Egyptians who fled to Europe in the guise of blind athletes, he thought, “This is the perfect vehicle to talk about the topic of immigration. A story that mixes real drama with dark humor; which is exactly what Egypt’s soul is: a melange of drama and humor. We express our sadness by laughing. This is very Egyptian.”
Although the film marks his feature debut, Hilal is a seasoned — and award-winning — commercials director. Over a 20-year career, his advertising spots proved notable for their intelligent sense of humor, cinematic execution, powerful characters and great casting. These characteristics all carry over to “Voy! Voy! Voy!” Hilal notes: “Advertising was the perfect school for learning filmmaking, because it hones the craft of storytelling to the max…it makes you a good editor. You know what matters to the story, so you focus on getting that out of a scene.”
In addition to Farag, Hilal’s clever script attracted other top Egyptian performers including Bayoumi Fouad and Nelly Karim. He says: “I wanted these big actors because I wanted it to reach a large audience…Nelly Karim was incredibly generous accepting this small role (versus her star power), but she championed the script, and went all in. A true artist cares only for good content, not the size of the role, or the money involved.”
The most challenging aspect of making “Voy!,” Hilal confides, was “playing three roles as writer-producer-director. It was so much work, looking at absolutely every detail of the budget, and having to constantly sacrifice things the director wanted, because the producer doesn’t have the budget… the challenge here was that I had to edit my own desires sometimes before I even wrote them!”
Currently, Hilal has an idea in development for a big film radically different in style and tone to “Voy!,” with a female lead. He says: “I will do fewer commercials now. Making a movie is very demanding, so I will choose any adverts with care.”
Following Marrakech, the film will screen at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in January. It will also have a limited release in New York City and Los Angeles, playing at the IFC Center in New York from Dec. 1-7 and the Laemmle Town Center in Encino from Dec. 8-12.