By: Jack Eisenhuth (Loyola Sophomore)
Under the shadow of the New 400 Theater’s sign in Rogers Park, I met Ayesha Abouelazm in person for the first time. The filmmaker went inside the Starbucks to order coffee, and I set out to find a seat. The sun was going down but the outdoor seating was filling up.
Abouelazm came over with two coffees, one for herself and a bribe for me. It was a bitter winter day and with only about an hour of sun left; she was worried that I would get cold.
Ayesha Abouelazm is a 29-year-old Egyptian-American filmmaker and a professor of Video Production at Loyola University. She has written and directed several short films, with “The Girl in the Blue Bra” (2016) and “Otherwise a Woman” (2019) being her more revered works. She currently is in the throes of pre-production on her first feature titled Red Line Woman based on “Blue Bra.” Abouelazm has done all this after only graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2017.
After taking the gifted latte, I began with asking the origins of her passion for film. As the mark of a true artist, Abouelazm responded with a brief summation of her life.
“There was creativity earlier,” she said, from the days of paper-doll-plays in her childhood to 1965’s The Sound of Music that inspired her to become an actress, “I knew I wanted to go into the field of film.” This creativity was given definition with the tumultuous decision to become a director.
“I wanted to be a director that brought something to people where they either don’t like it or like it… That is a conversation, a dialogue.”
The identity of a creator is tied to the artists that inspire them. For Abouelazm, this includes directors such as Martin Scorsese, Mira Nair, and Rainer Werner Fassbender, and for writers she said, “[Tennessee Williams’s] authenticity shines through a lot of my work.”
The filmmaker is currently applying this authentic approach in her first feature, Red Line Woman. The film will tackle an event during the Arab Spring in 2011 where a woman is beaten by police and her blue bra becomes visible.
“I explor[ed], from research and talking to people, the culture [of Egypt]… it deals with gender in the Middle East,” Abouelazm stated, “I don’t have an answer… but as a filmmaker I just want to explore it.” She went on to talk about artists defending their work, “you have a reason why you’re explaining and exploring. Defend it.”
As so many plans have been, the film was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Filming was supposed to begin last summer, but the production is moving forward. The script is now being finalized, with the next step being a table read. “It is a double-edged sword… I wanted to shoot the film, but it gave us time to focus more on the script.” Abouelazm continued to say that she misses being on set, “I miss the act of being upset and anxious, isn’t that weird?”
Red Line Woman will begin pitches to production companies and hopefully make it to screens next year. Abouelazm’s completed films are still in the festival circuit, though trailers for “Otherwise a Woman” and “The Girl in the Blue Bra” can be found online.
As the conversation set along with the sun, the professor gave final advice based on her favorite writer to her students, such as myself, and aspiring filmmakers: “If you stick to your authentic voice, people will see that and will be moved. And you will have a career doing things that are authentic. You won’t change for anybody.”