Friday November 18, 2016
By: May Allam
In 2007, computer engineer, Theresa Khalil moved from the polluted and chaotic city of Cairo, to start a new life in Sharm El Sheikh. Not quite common for a single woman to live alone, but for Theresa, a person guided through life by her passion for creativity, change and doing what she enjoys best, she followed the path she believed in.
Life in Sharm El Sheikh wasn’t easy for the single young women who was often misjudged and criticized by locals for living alone. In spite of that, she started her advertising and printing company. And over a period of 4 years, she filmed, “Sharmer”, her first documentary, which received overwhelming positive reviews and landed her a scholarship for a Masters degree in documentary film-making in Europe.
After a long journey studying, working and traveling across Europe, Theresa lives today in Zagreb, Croatia with her husband, where she manages an expats’ blog that connects expats and English speaking locals through culture and art events. Along her life journey, she authored three books and continues to make documentaries, and use her writings and creative art to bond with life and connect with humans around the world.
WOE: How has studying computer engineering contributed to your outlook on life? How has it added to your creative edge?
Theresa Khalil: Computer Engineering wasn’t easy to study, it was challenging and graduating with honors made me feel I am able to face any other challenges. Studying computers at a time where they became essentials in our lives made it possible for me to get familiar with the digital world at an early stage and use it to connect with art; whether it is graphic design, writing stories or making documentaries. In all those fields, I was producing everything on my own and computers were the main tool in the production process.
WOE: Please elaborate on the idea of “Love Surfing” that your next book is based on.
TK: There was a time in my life when I believed that love is not something we search for, as the right person will show up at the right time, but this didn’t happen. So at the age of 32 I started a searching process for my future husband, and one of the tools I used was online dating websites. “Love Surfing” is a book documenting my journey in finding my soulmate, passing through all the men I met on dating sites between Egypt and Europe, in hope that one of them could be my future life partner.
WOE: Is the short documentary you made based on the book?
TK: The short documentary ‘Love Surfing” followed the story of a date I had in Belgium. It started with a message I received on a dating site, visualizing the image of the person behind it and finished with meeting that person, and how the date ended up.
“Love Surfing” will be my third book of short stories after “Came and gone” Published by Dar El Kotob .
I also published “Surfing by a Couch” الإبحار بالكنبة” in which I documented my journey with the travel hosting websites. The book is published in a new form as a mobile application combining words with photos and videos.
WOE: How has making documentaries changed your outlook on life and society surrounding you? How has it contributed to your professional life?
TK: Actually creating documentaries didn’t change my viewpoint of life, they just became a new platform of expressing how I see life around me. Sometimes writing about a certain topic is not as powerful as documenting it in real life.
Documentaries now are the main focus of my professional life. I am more focused in my documentaries on humanity topics. [On] Making a film that can be shot at any place in the world and any human on the planet can connect and relate to it.
I am now in the process of developing and funding an interactive documentary under the title: “The scrapbook of life”. It is a web-based documentary with the aim of creating tolerance and acceptance to others.
Also through my YouTube channel UniqueTV, I tend to reach the same goal by showing different and unique events, opportunities and ideas that are alternative or out of the box.
WOE: Does your work in graphic design, photography and creating documentaries compliment one another?
TK: There is always a connection between all the activities I do. In some of my documentaries I used my writing skills and my experience in graphics and animation in executing some scenes. Also in my photos, I usually prefer to freeze a moment of movement, as if it is taken out of a film.
WOE: Since you are clearly a multi-tasker, do you have time to socialize and enjoy the beauty of nature and friends or do you find it difficult to balance all that with your profession and hobbies?
TK: Part of being multi-tasker for me is socializing. Being in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, I found it a great opportunity to create socializing events to my liking. When I first came, there were few English-speaking events that were limited to some meetups where people go mingle, have a drink, chat and leave without getting a real chance to know each other. I started a website www.uniquezagreb.com through which I organize more intimate meet-ups, in which I make sure everyone gets a chance to express themselves and [where meetings] are more focused on discovering the artistic and cultural face of the city.
Also in the summer, my husband and I go hiking, and we spend time with my mother and father-in-law. I also practice Tai Chi as a way of relaxing and staying fit.
WOE: How has having your own company helped you carry out your projects? Do you self-finance your documentaries or are you able to get sponsors for them?
TK: Having my own company gave me the power to negotiate and practice my marketing skills, which are always an important part of any project.
So far I have been self- financing my documentaries as this gives me more freedom to chose the topic and control the time of production according to my schedule, but I am hoping for my coming interactive documentary project to get funded, as it is a huge project and needs a team to realize it.
WOE: So many people today are certified coaches, helping people with time management and coaching on how to prioritize needs and balance between profession and personal life. Have you considered this field of work as a profession as well as help empower women by offering them your advice and experience?
TK: Being in film-making, I am sharing my life experiences, connecting and helping others through videos, and that was the reason behind me founding my other YouTube channel Fokaira – through which I share my daily life experiences, including healthy lifestyle, creativity and mini-ideas to inspire others and connect with the world.
WOE: How has living in Croatia as an Arab expat affected your outlook on life?
TK: Before living in Croatia, I was living in other European countries as an expat as well. It is an eye-opening experience, before I traveled, I had certain ideas about the West, which I discovered some of them are wrong and some of them were influenced by the movies we watch, but are not related to the reality. I also began to differentiate between East Europe and West Europe where there is a difference in development.
As an Arab expat, I didn’t have any problems. I was welcomed, especially as an Egyptian. For most of the people I meet here in Croatia, when they discover that I am from Egypt they look at me as if I am Cleopatra.
WOE: What advice do you have for women worldwide, and especially in the Middle East countries, on how to pursue their dreams as you have?
TK: Focus on your dream and try to reach it in small steps: anything that can put you closer to your goal is worth trying. Be brave but also wise and work hard in silence if being loud can cause you problems.