My Brother the Devil

USA 2012, 111 mins
Director: Sally El Hosaini

Sally El Hosaini on ‘My Brother the Devil’
Occasionally festival juries get it right. The award for Best British Newcomer at [the 2011] BFI London Film Festival went to writer-director Sally El Hosaini for My Brother the Devil, one of the most visually striking British debuts in recent times. It tells of two brothers of Egyptian descent growing up on a Hackney council estate. Elder brother Rashid (James Floyd) is mired in drug-dealing and local gang culture, but determined that younger brother Mo (Fady Elsayed) shouldn’t follow suit, preferring him to focus on educational achievement as a way out. Mo has different ideas, of course, and further twists in the tale will place their patiently evoked fraternal bond under pressure.

I probably don’t need to remind you of the numerous British horrors mining similar urban territory. Apart from skirting clichés, what El Hosaini brings to the table is a profound understanding of the dislocations often attendant on a mixed cultural heritage (she herself is half Egyptian); a concern for authenticity (particularly East London street argot) which doesn’t fetishise or glamorise; a brilliantly chosen and directed cast of mainly non-professionals; and a sensitive figuring of turbulent interior lives through superb camera and sound work. It all adds up to a heartfelt film that lives and breathes.

What was the starting point for My Brother the Devil ?

I’d lived in Hackney for over ten years, on the same council estate, and I’d seen a lot of change over that time. I wanted to do a film about two brothers, and because it looked like it was going to be micro micro micro-budget I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just set it on my council estate.’ In the wake of the London bombings there was a lot of stuff in the press about Arabs and Muslims and a certain kind of image projected, and I thought, ‘I really want to do the film that’s not the terrorist film – that’s a bit playful, that’s actually showing the real things these kids are dealing with.’

The older brother Rashid is played by an actor, James Floyd, but the others are mainly non-professionals.

I met so many fascinating boys during my research and thought, ‘Wow, they can really act. They could do better than an actor.’ But I was really worried about casting an actor among non-actors. I wasn’t able to find a real boy who was prepared to do the Rashid role. James really impressed me with the amount of hard work he put in just for the audition – it was miles more than anyone else had done. And I realised I needed someone who was going to be Method, and who was going to go and get to know the real guys. All I said to him was: ‘Don’t get arrested.’

What were you looking for when you chose your cinematographer?

With David [Raedeker] what I noticed was he allowed his camerawork to get messy for the performance. And I had seen other extremely talented cinematographers, but their work was so stunning that it was inaccessible. You almost didn’t care about the characters because it was just too good. I really felt that [Raedeker] was someone who was going to allow space for the actors to blossom. When you’re working with non-actors and young actors, it requires someone who’s going to be much more spontaneous – in the moment and responding, not coming at it with a very dogmatic ‘This is the shot’ or ‘This light has moved two inches because an actor kicked it.’ I needed that more flexible way.

What else were you looking to achieve visually in the film?

Our main rule was that the shooting style would be subjective, so whenever we composed shots of the brothers we would always be thinking about the experience of that moment through the five senses. The other big decision that affected the aesthetic was to shoot in Scope. When I was shopping the script around trying to raise money, something a lot of people said to me was, ‘Oh, it’s set on a Hackney council estate. OK, we know what that film is.’ Well actually, no. Because have you been to Hackney? Have you been on a council estate? There’s actually grass – they’re not that bad; there’s sky, there’s flowers, there’s trees. What I realised was that there was this whole thing of outsiders making films looking in, and I thought if there’s one aspiration I have, it’s for this film to be from the inside looking out. That matched up with our ambition to be very subjective. So we realised that we should make this film an adventure rather than mundane, and Scope made it that – because you’re suddenly applying a different way of looking at a world that we’re used to seeing on TV screens.

It lifts your film into another dimension.

And also it allowed us to be very intimate, because you’re forced into all these close-ups with Scope. And the actors had better be completely honest, because they’re going to show up if they’re not.

Your own background clearly informs your depiction of the brothers and their family.

In a way Rashid has become the dad that his father can’t be, because the parents are so out of touch – because they literally come from another world. They don’t actually understand the world their sons inhabit. Their sons are living this split because there’s them outside, navigating the world, and there’s them at home. A lot of Arab people living in the West will identify with that split personality.

Interview by Kieron Corless, Sight and Sound, December 2012

Directed by: Sally El Hosaini
©: Blood Brothers Films Ltd. (UK)
Production Companies: Wild Horses Film Company, Rooks Nest Entertainment
In association with: Film Clinic
With additional support from: Sundance Institute, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, Babylon
Developed with the assistance of: Rawi Screenwriters’ Lab
Executive Producers: Mohamed Hefzy, Sally El Hosaini
Producers: Gayle Griffiths, Julia Godzinskaya, Michael Sackler
Line Producer: Michael S. Constable
Production Coordinator: Heather Brunt
Location Manager: Joe Kotroczo
Assistant Location Manager: Christopher Hutchins
Post-production Supervisor: Mark Harris
1st Assistant Directors: Alex Mercer, Karen Howard
1st Assistant Director (2nd Unit): Andrew McEwan
2nd Assistant Director: Joe Hornsey
Script Supervisor: Sara J. Doughty
Casting: Shaheen Baig, Aisha Walters
Written by: Sally El Hosaini
Script Consultant: Aymen Hamdouchi
Director of Photography: David Raedekerv 2nd Unit Director of Photography: Nick Gordon Smith
2nd Assistant Camera: Jon Britt
Focus Puller: Chris Kane
Gaffer: Max McGill
Opening Titles Photography: Simon Wheatley, Nick Wall
Stills Photographers: Etienne Bol, Edina Van Der Wyck
Visual Effects Supervisors: Dom Thomson, Delores McGinley
Special Effects Supervisor: Scott MacIntyre
Editor: Iain Kitching
1st Assistant Editors: Immanuel Von Bennigsen, Kevin Holt, Ben Coulson
Editing Consultant: Mamoun Hassan
Production Designer: Stéphane Collonge
Art Director: Pedro Moura
Assistant Art Director: Jamie Bishop
Graffiti Artist: Andrew Greenwood
Production Buyer: Melanie Light
Costume Designer: Rob Nicholls
Costume Supervisor: Lisa Mitton
Hair & Make-up Designer: Emma Slater
Key Make-Up Artist: Sophie Cox
Prosthetics Supplier: Paul Hyett
Digital Colourist: Paul Ensby
Music by: Stuart Earl
Music Supervisors: Manners McDade, Nicole Prutch
Sound Designer: Jovan Ajder
Sound Recordist: David Mitchell
2nd Boom Operator (Daily): Seb Blach
Sound Maintenance: Rebecca Morgan
Re-recording Mixers: Jovan Ajder, Samir Foco
Final Re-Recording Mixers: Graham Daniel, Adam Daniel
Supervising Sound Editor: Jovan Ajder
Sound Editors: Sirma Dogan, Thomas Cohen
Dialogue Editor: Nikola Medic
FX Editor: Samir Foco
ADR Editors: Ruben Aguirre Barba, Peter Crooks
Foley Artists: Miodrag Jakovljevic, Ivan Uzelac
Foley Recordist: Nikola Kokotovic
Foley Editors: Slobodan Raijcic, Marko Stojanovic
Stunt Co-ordinator: Jason White
Armourer: Scott Macintyre
Animal Handlers: K9-FX Film Dogs, Mic Martin, Rob Burgess, Sonny St. Rose
Digital Intermediate by: Technicolor Creative Services, Kim Honeyman
Digital Intermediate Editorial: Jamie Leonard
Digital Dailies Supervisor: Dan Mulligan
Digital Intermediate Consultant: Matt Adams
Studio: Shoreditch Studios, Wimbledon Studios

Saïd Taghmaoui (Sayyid)
James Floyd (Rashid)
Fady Elsayed (Mo)
Aymen Hamdouchi (Repo)
Ashley Thomas (Lenny)
Anthony Welsh (Izzi)
Arnold Oceng (AJ)
Letitia Wright (Aisha)
Amira Ghazalla (Hanan)
Elarica Gallacher (Vanessa)
Nasser Memarzia (Abdul-Aziz)
Shyam Kelly (Devonte)
McKell Celaschi-David (Demon’s boy)
Zachary Scipio (Demon’s younger)
Ryan Townsend (Demon’s younger 2)
Malachi Kirby (J-Boy)
Kemi Martin (J-Boy’s girl)
Mohammed Mansary (Faisal)
Denzel Assiamah (Bobo)
Yusra Warsama (Sonya)
Aaron Ishmael (Jamie)
Savannah Gordon-Liburd (Hackney girl)
Leemore Marrett Jr (Demon)
Naresh Bhana (tattoo artist)
Kirsty Todd (tattoo parlour receptionist)
Nicola Harrison (secretary)
George Oliver (crackhead)
Frieda Thiel (Kayla)
Michael-Joel David Stuart (DMG Younger 2)
Sylvia Amanquah (junkie mum)
Ebony White (Jamaican granny)

UK 2012©
111 mins

Tue 1 Aug 20:35 (+ pre-recorded intro by film critic Xuanlin Tham); Fri 11 Aug 20:30; Thu 31 Aug 18:10
Dog Day Afternoon
Wed 2 Aug 20:30; Thu 17 Aug 18:00; Sun 27 Aug 18:15
Chocolate Babies
Thu 3 Aug 20:30 (+ intro by season programmer Grace Barber-Plentie); Sat 19 Aug 20:50
Female Trouble
Sat 5 Aug 18:15; Thu 10 Aug 18:15 (+ intro by Justin Johnson, Lead Programmer); Fri 25 Aug 20:45
The Devil Queen (A Rainha Diaba)
Mon 7 Aug 20:40; Fri 18 Aug 18:10
By Hook or By Crook
Tue 8 Aug 20:50; Tue 15 Aug 18:20 (+ intro by Zorian Clayton, BFI Flare Programmer)
Madame Satã
Thu 10 Aug 20:40; Sun 20 Aug 12:30
Fresh Kill
Mon 14 Aug 20:40; Sun 27 Aug 13:20
The Bloodettes (Les Saignantes)
Tue 15 Aug 20:30; Mon 21 Aug 20:30
My Brother the Devil
Wed 16 Aug 20:40; Thu 24 Aug 17:50
On Guard
Thu 17 Aug 20:45; Mon 21 Aug 18:30
The Living End
Tue 22 Aug 20:40; Mon 28 Aug 14:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
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