Today is Monday. It’s time for you to be inspired. This weeks’ star of the obsession sessions is no other than Egyptian Director Ali Ali. Ali is a freelance film director that lives in Cairo and works all over the world. Three years ago he founded a boutique advertising agency named Elephant in Cairo along with his creative partner Maged Nassar. It quickly became the most awarded agency in the middle east, not to mention being named by Cannes lions as one of three most exciting agencies in the world today. Together Maged and Ali have won over 6 Cannes Lions, something they would never have dreamed of achieving a couple of years ago.

This year Ali decided to quit advertising and focus on directing full time, meanwhile his partner Maged moved to Berlin to join DDB. Ali is represented by Doppleganger (His agent in Berlin) and Big Mama (His agent in Milan). Currently, all Ali does is travel round the world shooting ads for different agencies in different markets, which can be fun, if you don’t mind living out of bag. His next job is in Bucharest, Romania. He leaves tomorrow.

I: What’s the earliest memory of a creative activity you did?

A: My earliest memory of creative activity would have to be drawing. Drawing and lying. I did a lot of both when I was a kid. And I think they’re both great for building an imagination. I would lie and make up stories continually. I forged most of my report cards as well. Not telling the truth meant you always had to fill in with other stories, with fiction. so I guess I did a lot of fiction as a child. when I got older I started painting, first acrylics then oils. I had a very inspiring Art Teacher called Paul Rinaldi, and for the longest time, I wanted to be a painter.

I: If you weren’t doing what you do right now, what would you be doing?

A: I think I would love to have been a surgeon. I love how a surgeons job is done the minute he walks out of the operating room. Surgery is brilliant, because it’s all science, yet it still involves craft. You work with your hands, and if you mess up you can kill someone. That’s a crazy thing to do day in day out I think.

I: Inspiration, who? what? where?

A:  Who? : It’s funny, but the two people who inspired me the most in life were both called Nabil. Nabil El Solamy, my deceased uncle who was an illustrator and cartoonist living and working in the former GDR. I would spend days on end in the summer, drawing with my uncle, and inking up his old pencil drawings. I think he was responsible for getting me interested in art, and everything happened from there. Then theres my old man, Nabil Ali, a computer scientist, and a linguist. He got me interested in science, math, engineering, classical music, structured thinking, reading, logic, everything and anything I still use in my work today.

What? : I think everything can be inspiring. if you look hard enough. I like to seek inspiration from outside my field. I don’t look at ads for inspiration, or graphic design. I think real inspiration comes from other areas, away from your own, and the further the better. I mostly go to art shows for inspiration. I’m obsessive about seeing all the art shows in every city I visit. I also keep and collect all my art ticket stubs. For example, I’ve been to every major art show at the Tate Modern or Royal Academy for the last ten years. I just went to London to see Damien Hirst and his shark, that was incredibly moving and inspiring. Theater and reading are also great sources of inspiration. I read fiction mostly, Tom Robbins is my favorite living author. Nikos Kazantazakis, is my favorite dead one. And finally, people. Just being outside and talking to people I think is the best way to think. When I’m struggling with ideas or a difficult brief, I like to go outside and talk to cab drivers, or just sit in a nearby ahwa (Egyptian slang for dive coffee shop) and talk to the person sitting next to me.

Where? : Curzon soho. My favorite movie theater. I love to go there and watch three films back to back, or just sit in the coffee shop and read. have a good cup of coffee.

I: Share any of piece your work, recent or old and talk about it.

A: I think I’ll talk about two pieces of work here. One is a print ad I did for Sony Microvault (the usb memory stick) back in 2008. And the other is a TV campaign for an obscure Egyptian brand of Halawa (Halva) called Bawadi.

Sony is very close to my heart. For one, because it got me my first Cannes Lion. I remember saying I would quit advertising the minute I get my first Lion. little did i know : ) When i thought of this print campaign, I wasn’t crazy about it because it felt so obvious and so easy. I remember Maged, my partner at the time, told me, “someone must have done it, it feels too easy” and i think we both learned something that day. That the best ideas always feel too easy, and too simple, they make you think “why hasn’t anyone thought of this before”.

“Bawadi Prisoners” is also a piece of work I am very fond of. This campaign was done by Maged and myself in 2011. And it has won us every award in the region including the Dubai Lynx Grand Prix and best of show. Again, the thought was very outrageous, and we both immediately dismissed it, but then we thought, “Why hasn’t anyone used prisoners in a halawa ad before?!”. We all know prisoners eat halawa, and we always see them in films eating halawa, and the first thing you get an inmate when you pay them a visit is a box of Halawa. Initially the client wanted to use celebrities for this campaign, when we asked why he said “Because people trust celebrities” and I remember we said “But that’s not true, when it comes to halawa, they should trust the prisoners” and thats how these films were born.

I: Name 5 websites that you check often.

The Guardian
Creativity Online
The Tate
Art in America
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Hi, I'm Ibraheem Youssef
I'm a Creative,
currently based in Toronto.

Welcome to my blog.

Art Direction / Alignment / Colours
Cooking / Design / Folding
Illustration / Paper / Printing
Ping Pong / Type / Walking

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