'Free Trip To Egypt': An Interview with Filmmaker Tarek Manoub

What would happen if you brought together two groups of people from two different cultures, often presented by politicians and mass media as mutually hostile? 

This is the question that sparked Canadian-Egyptian filmmaker Tarek Mounib's "Free Trip to Egypt." It marked the start of a quest to find out if kindness and connection could overcome division. The drive to find an answer to this question would take Tarek from his home in Switzerland to the United States, with a unique offer for willing Americans who were fearful of Islam: an all-expenses-paid vacation to Egypt. 

ConciergeQ spoke with Tarek about the making of "Free Trip to Egypt," and the profound impact travel can have on all of us. 

ConciergeQ: What first inspired your idea for this film? 

Tarek Mounib: The idea came towards the end of 2016. I was seeing a lot of hate in the world, a lot of polarity, a lot of demonization. It scared me. I found that I was actually starting to become afraid of Americans and the way they saw me in my culture. I didn't want to live in fear and I asked myself, "Is there another way?" Then that's when the idea came, "What if I approached the people that I thought were afraid of me and offered them something kind instead of judging them or running away from them?" That’s when the idea came to offer people a free trip to Egypt and see what would unfold.

CQ: Which of your film's participants story arcs surprised you the most? 

TM: I think the most surprising story arc was the one of Ellen and Terry. Without giving away too much, the courage, facing fear, depth of connection and transformation that occurred was really powerful and amazing to witness. Then to see how their lives were completely turned around, and all that within just 10 days, still astounds me. I find their story to be very powerful and inspirational

CQ: In the trailer, we hear, "There was so much that was the same." Can you please elaborate? 

TM: Well, in the trailer, it was actually Katie’s words who is from Norfolk, Nebraska living now in Arizona. She actually continues that sentence in the film. Katie was talking about how when she visited her Egyptian family, they were raising goats just like she was raising goats when she was a child, and that the mother, even though she didn't speak a word of English, reminded her of her own mother. There was this dynamic moment where the mother was teasing her daughter about wanting grandchildren and that reminded her of her own mother. The whole human dynamic really felt the same to her. All of a sudden, it was just like being back home.
CQ: Did you learn anything that surprised you? 

TM: I personally had to confront a lot of my own prejudices and fears. The film was not about educating Americans about the Middle East. It was about all of us learning together and all of us examining our own stereotypes. For example, for me, I met Brian who was a Marine at the Trump rally. He actually came with us to Egypt. I realized very quickly that I had my own preconceptions of what a Marine at a Trump rally would be like. He turned out to be the kindest, most loving person. His whole concept of being a Marine was all about love and brotherhood. He even has a tattoo on his shoulder saying the greatest love is laying down your life for your brother or a friend - a quote from the Bible. That was his motivating factor to be in the Marine. To see a Marine motivated by love and kindness was quite beautiful actually. It was very different than what I had anticipated.
CQ: What film inspired you to travel and why? 

TM: That's a hard question because I've been traveling since practically I was born. My parents, a few months after I was born in Canada, took me to Egypt for the summer and would continue to do so during my childhood. I developed a sense of feeling at home in a lot of different cultures. That's why it pains me when I see different cultures that I grew up in suspicious of one another. I can't say there's a specific film, but a lot of people have told us after watching our film, "Free Trip to Egypt," that they have the desire to travel.
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