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Mohamed Diab Preps Palestine-Set Drama ‘Deja’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 5/22/2017 Elsa Keslassy
© Provided by Variety

Mohamed Diab, the critically-acclaimed Egyptian director of “Cairo 678” and “Clash,” is prepping “Deja,” a politically-charged film set in Palestine.

“Deja” is inspired by true stories of Palestinian prisoners who are serving long-term sentences in Israeli prisons and are smuggling sperm outside of jails to have children with their wives through artificial insemination.

The story follows a 17-year-old Palestinian girl, conceived through artificial insemination, who embarking on a journey to find her biological father who happens to live in Israel. “The voyage and her encounters with her father and family members will challenge her in every way and will shake her sense of identity,” Diab told Variety.

“Deja” will also chronicle the tumultuous love story between this young woman and a man of her age who is in prison.

Like “Cairo 678” and “Clash,” “Deja” will be anchored by a strong female protagonist “I love to depict Arab women and squash all the stereotypes. Arab women are often misrepresented as being submissive in Western films whereas, in real life, they’re often tougher than men,” said Diab, who sits on this year’s jury of Un Certain Regard at Cannes.

“Deja,” which is currently at script stage, will also have a philosophical dimension, explaining how personal convictions and personalities can be shaped by cultural background and genetic affiliations, Diab explained.

Diab is re-teaming with his producers on “Clash”: Mohamed Hefzy and Paris-based Daniel Ziskind at at Film Clinic, an Egypt-based outfit that has been nurturing a young generation of ambitious, progressive Arab directors, such as as Diab.

A bold and daring filmmaker, Diab broke through the international scene in 2010 with his feature debut “Cairo 678,” which turned on three Egyptian women rebelling against their country’s history of sexual harassment. Meanwhile, “Clash,” his second film, which opened Un Certain Regard last year, centers on pro-army supporters and Muslim Brotherhood members confronting each other while being detained in a police wagon during riots. The film dealt with the Tahrir Square protests and Egypt’s ensuing revolution.

Ziskind said he and Hefzy were seeking international partners to come on board “Deja.” “We believe this film has the potential to cross borders and strike a chord overseas, well beyond the Arab world,” said the producer. Diab, who studied at the New York Film Academy and splits his time between the U.S. and Egypt, said he also strives to make films that can reach a wide audience outside the festival circuits.

Diab succeeded with his last two pics, in particular with “Clash,” which even got the attention of Tom Hanks who sent him a letter after seeing the movie to praise him for delivering a non-stereotypical and “enlightening” depiction of modern Egypt.

For “Deja,” Diab looks forward to re-team with his crew on “Cairo 678” and “Clash,” including his cinematographer Ahmed Gabr, and his creative producer Sarah Goher (who is also his wife), who helped secure an foreign sales agent, Fortissimo, for “Cairo 678.”

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