Writer-director Tarik Saleh’s latest film Cairo Conspiracy follows Adam, the son of a fisherman, who is offered the ultimate privilege to study at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the epicenter of power in Sunni Islam. Shortly after his arrival, the university’s highest religious leader, the Grand Imam, suddenly dies and Adam soon becomes a pawn in a ruthless power struggle between Egypt’s religious and political elite.
The film, originally known as Boy From Heaven, made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival this year where Saleh won the Best Screenplay prize. Inspired by John le Carré – “I’ve read all of his books twice” – Saleh said during a panel discussion at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International that he was not interested in making a statement about Islam in his political thriller.
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“To have an opinion about Islam is to have an opinion about Christianity or Judaism,” he said. “It’s world religion. There are so many kinds of people that worship. You have everything from the psychopath to the kind spirited person who just wants to help. I’m not that interested in how the religion itself wants to portray itself. I don’t care about that. I care about human behavior and power struggle and authority.”
He added, “This film, at its core, is about the price of an education, or the cost of an education. The cost of knowledge, which in my opinion, is innocence.”
The Samuel Goldwyn Films movie, which is Sweden’s Oscar submission this year, was shot in Turkey rather than Egypt as Saleh has been persona non grata in Egypt since being kicked out of the country right before he was about to shoot The Nile Hilton Incident back in 2017.
“It’s very sad. I love Egypt but it’s an unrequited love,” said the Egyptian-Swedish director.
Saleh told a moving anecdote in which he recalls being driven to the airport for the last time, watching the sun rise over the Nile and realizing that he was never going to see that scene again.
Check out the panel video above.
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