Tarek Mounib, a Canadian-Egyptian entrepreneur living in Switzerland decided he was going to attempt some cross cultural understanding by reaching out to people who fear him because he is Muslim. He did this by offering Americans an entirely free trip to Egypt and making a film about it.
Jumping straight in at the deep end, Tarek thought he would “start things off by going to a Trump rally.” Despite the complete lack of interest and outright hostility he consistently encountered, Tarek succeeded in finding two people at the Trump rally who were willing to overcome their fears and travel with him. Then with a bit of help and publicity from a radio talk show, Tarek began receiving short videos from people explaining who they were and why they wanted to go on this trip. He eventually assembles a diverse group from various backgrounds including a teacher, a police officer, a Marine veteran, a single mom, a preacher and a beauty pageant queen. As this is unfolding we are given a glimpse of Tarek a decade earlier as he speaks eloquently on behalf of his university’s Muslim Students Association.
The group is assembled and the trip gets under way. Their first stop is the Red Sea resort of El Gouna which is a nice and easy intro to Egypt for them all. They then go to Cairo where they are assigned Egyptian individuals or families who will be their guides to the country. Like the Americans, this group of Egyptians are varied in their background and situation but out of necessity for this project, they all speak English. There is a cinematographer, a social activist, a choreographer, a photo journalist and an orthodox Muslim family whose members include a lawyer and a business analyst.
The film then follows the group throughout the trip recording their experiences of Egypt and showing how each of them gets to know their guides and vice versa. The group then reassembles at the end of each day to reflect on and discuss their experiences. It is in the course of these conversations that wider observations about difference, mutually distorted perceptions and the simple obviousness of human commonalities are explored. However, a musical event to which both the Americans and Egyptians are invited, allows for an insight into social and religious dynamics in Egypt and how that also connected to some of the visitors.
The fly on the wall filming style means that body language and facial expressions often communicate as much, if not more, than the dialogue. There are sometimes awkward moments and difficult discussions. There is a very emotional scene when one of the American group unexpectedly reveals a trauma in her life.
A few months after their return to the US Tarek Mounib pays each of the travellers a visit. Having got to know them in the environment of their trip to Egypt, it is actually strange to see them in their own houses and communities as they reflect on their trip. With one couple, however, the impact of the trip on their lives was profound and involved a second trip to Egypt, although one taken in sadder circumstances.
Free Trip to Egypt. is often very raw, real and haphazard and it leaves things entirely open for the viewer to draw the conclusions. It is a unique film project driven by the passion of an individual who took a huge chance and managed to take each participant along with him. In the process the film takes the viewer along on a free trip to Egypt as well and this is definitely a trip worth taking.