The Doc In Context:  The Filmmaker in Her Own Words

“Shahira” was made on a shoe string.  Deb Parks (then a camera assistant) and I needed to do our first film on or own - otherwise we’d never get chance. Only 4 percent of funding, at that time, went to women directors - we had to prove we could do it.

A kind administrator at TVO took pity on us and gave us $2,000 for “Shahira,”  I think so we’d leave him alone!  When we finished the film and tried to deliver it, I couldn't get through to him –he’d completely forgotten about the documentary and thought I wanted to ask for money for a film! When he finally saw it he was shocked!  “You made it, it’s really good!”

We sold the documentary to channel 4 in the U.K and 20 other countries.

Looking back it was the beginning of my exploration of strong women fighting through barriers, living through conflict, and how they saw the world and were changing it. It was about human rights. These are the themes I keep coming back to.

To make the film we made three trips to Egypt and spent five weeks camping and filming in the Sahara, shooting on 16 millimeter. We learned every lesson you can- from patience, endurance, to keeping an open mind about story - seeing what was there, not what you are looking for.  

It was one of the great adventures of my life!


About the Doc


This is an inspirational documentary about a young Muslim woman, trained as an anthropologist, who suffered hardship and professional censure to save a desert tribe from becoming extinct in the harsh Sahara. The Bishari tribe had lived in the Sahara for 5,00 years, but were unknown to Egyptian authorities. The Bishari were living in a time warp, their warriors believing they were still the guardians of the ancient Roman gold mines. When the Aswan Dam was constructed, the Bishari's grazing ground became submerged. Anthropologist Shahira Fawzy discovered them by chance, suffering from illness and malnutrition. Going against the wishes of her traditional family, Shahira went to live among the Bishari. She studied their customs, fought the government bureaucracy on their behalf, and helped them develop skills such as irrigation, well digging and gardening. Her aim was to ensure that the tribe would maintain its unique culture while surviving in the modern world.

This is a documentary so exotic and fascinating that it has the aura of fiction.


Meet Our Featured FIlmmaker Shelley Saywell