Mohanad Kojak is the antipode of the stereotypical image that most have of young Arab Muslim men -- fashion designer, eccentric creative and gay man, all going against the conventions of the conservative land where he was born. Through his brand, Cairo-based Kojak Studio, he has achieved popularity but also attracted the attentions of online bullies and trolls. He's beloved by his friends, his entourage and insulted by his enemies.
But at the core of Zip It, the upcoming documentary about Kojak made by French-Egyptian filmmaker Anicée Gohar, lies an outstanding fashion film, which could screen side by side with the likes of Celebration, Unzipped and Dior & I.
Fashion is film and film is fashion, in my book. I've always admired and followed the work of filmmakers who appeal to my eyes as well as my heart. And while Gohar could be considered a young filmmaker, her work powerfully gets to the heart of this story.
Among her influences for making Zip It Gohar includes Richard Press' fascinating film about the late NY Times photojournalist Bill Cunningham. And just like that doc took us on a ride with Cunningham and his bicycle, Zip It allows us to get to know Kojak while riding in cars, floating on a boat on the Nile and sitting in his parents' living room -- along with his extraordinarily good looking family.
Zip It for me felt like going on a favourite holiday, a wonderful joy ride with a fascinating artist, told by yet another wondrous auteur, one in the making anyway. The film premieres in the UK at the upcoming Raindance Festival and you can get your tickets on their website.
I caught up with Anicée Gohar for a conversation that made me love her film even more. Kind, with a voice like honey and pretty, her answers packed a powerful punch, betraying a woman wise beyond her years.
Zip it is everything that I watch films for. I love when fashion and cinema come together and you've really done a beautiful job of that. How did you come to find Mohanad Kojak?
He was basically my sister's close friend. She's a fashion buyer and she's older so she was helping him when he was starting his brand, They had a shoot together when she was pregnant. He was basically shooting some of his collection on her and I was filming behind the scenes stuff, just for the memories. And he was so captivating in all the footage that I almost forgot about my pregnant sister and ended up just filming him and he was really funny and and great. I kept filming him, and I wasn't exactly sure what I would do but then I was like okay what do you think about a documentary? And he was like sure. He was super open but at the same time it was really hard to get to the core of him and this is something that came up a lot in the Q & A in Italy where we had our first screening, which is that he's always wearing masks.
Did you premiere at Middle East Now in Florence?
Saudi filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh is one of your producers. How did that come about? Because I'm a big fan of his filmmaking.
Yeah, me too. So he was really a friend, again, and I sent him my documentary, the very first draft — it was a natural thing for me to do because I respect him and I wanted his opinion and as I said he's a friend, and I was struggling for post production because it's the one thing where it's really hard when you don't have funding. He decided to help me with exactly that, the post production and so he got involved and he's been supporting the project ever since. That actually really gave me the push that I needed because this is my first feature so to see that someone like him would be willing to actually help me so much was great. He made sure everything was okay. He came in and then he decided to stay on, as a producer.
What made you decide to to start with a particularly challenging moment in Kojak’s life, but also what could be something kind of controversial for the Region?
I wanted to start with something like that, because this is something he goes through every now and then, very regularly actually. And, you know, he gets threats or it can be an old employee or it can be just random people on the net, that would threaten him or do, or send him hate speech and stuff like that, In this case, when we were filming it was an ex employee. And he decided to go and report it to the police. So we went and then, the way a lot of things in Egypt end up, of course it was not being taken seriously, went nowhere and then we kind of forgot about it, which is why in the film, it's like that as well.
I myself have been receiving a lot of crazy messages and stuff like that and so I'm happy that we included it in the film. He now lives in Florence. Yes, he decided to go and do his master’s there, so he's gonna be there for a year. In Egypt now he’s labeled as not only openly gay but also as a harasser.
His sensibility as a designer is very much a sort of Egyptian Dolce and Gabbana kind of feel where your family and your own culture and your own background comes into the mix and I love the fact that his mother is his muse. The film is very much like a fashion documentary but not in the traditional sense. A fashion film, actually. How did you manage to capture that?
Thank you. I think, by just filming so often that he would forget I'm there I would say. And because I was lucky that my subject, he created that world for himself so even the interviews that we filmed in his studio are just perfect, all the background was perfect. He created that world for himself where everything is kind of pastel and, as you say, the family's very involved, He never works alone there's always his entourage around him. So it just made for that kind of vibe that you were talking about.
What have been the films and the filmmakers who have influenced your work and your life?
Do you know Talal Derki?
Yes of course! He's made Return to Homs and Of Fathers and Sons...
He's someone that I've always respected because I love the way he films things, and without getting involved. He can show you extremists and you're gonna watch them as if you're there.
I would also say, a lot of French cinema because my mom is French, and that's kind of what we had access to. I mean, like Arabic also Egyptian cinema like Youssef Chahine, of course. One of my favourite films is La Piscine.
And the last thing I wanted to ask you is what is elegance, for you, what defines elegance?
For me, elegance, you have to have a bit of mystery that you can't give it all. And then just respect for others I think. You should aspire to maybe be like this person but not feel like she or he is superior to you. Same with a piece of cloth or clothes. You can't feel like it's too good for you to wear that you wouldn't fit or you wouldn't look good in it, but at the same time you want to kind of envy it, I don't know. And then of course classiness makes something elegant.