'Cairo Time' reception thrills director

Film production plagued by financial, political difficulties

COLOGNE, Germany -- It was especially sweet for director Ruba Nadda when her "Cairo Time" won best Canadian feature film at the Toronto International Film Festival this weekend. Sweet considering the "logistic and financial nightmare" Nadda endured making her cross-cultural love story starring Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig.

"Two weeks before going to Cairo, our financing fell apart, my producer called me and said 'we're done.'" Nadda recalls, still shuddering at the memory. "I was in shock. I was crying, begging him to please pull this together. He said, 'OK, give me 24 hours.' And he did it – we all deferred and we were off. But we were hanging on by a hair."

Nadda says finding backers for the film, in which Clarkson plays the wife of a Canadian diplomat who begins a fleeting affair with an Egyptian man, was arduous, though local distributors Mongrel and Toronto-based world-sales outfit E1 Entertainment were on board from the start.

"Financiers are funny. If things aren't blowing up in your movie, they don't trust you," Nadda quips.

Shooting in Egypt was also a challenge, with Nadda having to outwit the on-set censor and smuggle unsanctioned footage into Canada by any and all means.

"The censor counted the reels we shot and nothing got out without her signature," Nadda say. 'So we'd have to slip in an extra reel or two when they weren't looking or, in some cases, forge her signature to get the stuff out."

It was a long journey, but since its world premiere in Toronto, "Cairo Time" has been riding a wave of public and critical good will. Public screenings quickly sold out and the film was one of the few not featuring George Clooney, Matt Damon or Oprah Winfrey to generate buzz on the red carpet at this year's TIFF.

"It's the first time in my entire career where I'm not the one creating the buzz," says Nadda, whose previous features include "Sabah" (2005) and "Unsettled" (2001). "The movie almost didn't happen and now for audiences to go crazy over this sweet, gentle love story is just a huge, payoff. Huge."

"Cairo Time" opens in Canadian cinemas Oct. 9.