TorinoFilmLab - Training, development, Funding


I Dreamt of Empire

Kasem Kharsa, Jessica Landt

Germany, Egypt, United States


CAIRO, 1980. Musa is a brilliant Egyptian professor. But he cannot move past the grief of losing his only son, Yusuf, an officer who died fighting the Israelis in the 1956 War. These ghosts of the past have fuelled his recent research into doing the impossible - finding a way to travel in time and save his son from ever dying. He has been working on a method to ‘leap back’ to the past, by switching places with someone else from that time.

He succeeds and wakes up in the war, but unexpectedly, in the body of an Israeli soldier - Ben. It is as if Musa has woken up in a nightmare. While he roams the Sinai desert in Ben’s body looking for his son, Ben is taking over Musa’s life in Cairo. Each time Musa returns to the present, he discovers the changes Ben has been making to his life. More and more as Musa leaps back and forth in time, he increasingly loses grip of his own identity. Does he stay and reclaim his life or does he complete his mission?

He decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and go back for Yusuf before it’s too late. But as he nears Yusuf’s unit, he is mistaken for an Israeli and killed. Moments later, Yusuf finds Ben/Musa’s body and buries him, unaware that this man is actually his father.


This story is inspired by loss in my own family. During the ‘56 War, my grandfather received news that his favorite son, an Egyptian army officer, had been killed in the Sinai by the Israeli army. Upon hearing this, he was stricken with grief and suffered a stroke. He eventually recovered but people say he was never quite the same - the sorrow he felt was so intense it was as if he had lost a part of himself out in that desert. It was a sorrow that would also send him to an early grave at the age of 50. Because they both died so young, I never met either of these men and so it was up to my mother to tell me their tragic story. As a child I tried to picture them, I tried to imagine a love so deep between two human beings that it could turn into something tragic. I tried to picture a man that could be destroyed by his own grief.
I Dreamt of Empire is a story about a father who has lost his beloved son, but here he has the unique opportunity to do something about it. He invents a way to travel back in time to stop his son from dying in the first place. But as he journeys back and forth to alter time, his simple plan is complicated by another man, a kind of double, taking over his present life.

While the film fits in the sci-fi genre, it has little to do with futuristic technology and more to do with human memory, nostalgia and identity. I find these three facets of a person most fascinating and they inform all of my writing. It is by exploring these elements as a storyteller that I am able to resolve my own fragmented past. Here, we have a main character that finds a fantastical way to repair his own past, to literally go back to his son and save him. But the price he pays for rewriting history is that he must go deeper and deeper into a nightmare and lose hold of his own identity.

Empire intentionally starts off with two natural enemies pitted against one another and could easily become a grand political allegory. But as the story continues we learn Musa’s greatest adversary is not his Israeli double, it’s himself. This film is ultimately about a man coming to terms with what he lost, a man learning to no longer be a victim of his own grief and past.

As a child, as much as I tried to picture my grandfather and his pain, he was always a blur, a shadow of a man. Writing this story has been a way to try to understand him and how love can lead a father to sacrifice everything, even himself.

distribution & sales

When I first read Empire I was immediately drawn into the atmosphere and the conflict of our main character, Musa. He is a very lonely man who cannot overcome his son’s death. He becomes a hermit, neglecting his life, wife and career. I can understand and sympathize with him, although I would not choose this radical way because I need to live my life in the now. But losing a beloved one is something very difficult for anyone who is left behind; it takes a great effort to overcome this loss. Yet, I can relate to Musa wanting to turn back time. Who has not thought about that? Who does not regret something? The way Kasem has set this entirely personal story within the concept of time travel is fascinating, including the possibilities and challenges that arrive with it. It is not a typical sci-fi film, but touches us on a very personal level, opening up the chance to explore “what if” and takes us onto the very personal search of Musa for his own identity. Musa has created a very subjective image of his son in his head, which he has preserved over the years. This is what he is trying to find, yet it is not so easy to trick fate and relive the past. Things are compounded further because by travelling back in time, Musa switches places with his enemy, who actually lives out Musa’s life better than he did. The film will be produced by Beleza Film, the company I founded with Falk Nagel in 2009 that has bases in both Hamburg and Berlin. We produce fiction, documentary as well as transmedia projects. It is the personal stories and the characters that we are interested in. Our previous productions include 10 Palestinian short films (2010) and the Turkish/German co-production Küf directed by Ali Aydin (in co-production with Motiva Film, Yeni Sinemacilar) which won the “Lion of the Future” at Venice 2012. We are currently working on a feature-length documentary about an Australian pianist, Helfgott; I Am A B-Boy (French/German co-production) as well as the transmedia project Tell Me Who You Are./ Producing an international debut feature film like Empire; as lead producer, is consequently the next step for our company. We are excited to realize Empire for its story, approach and potential. Our ambition is to make a film whose quality and depth attracts strong international appreciation. It is aimed at an international art house audience, possibly attracting a wider audience due to the topic of time travel. The main audience will be adults, concerned with philosophical questions about life, death, and how to deal with it. We will focus on local distributors and world sales early in the project development and will start contacting them once the script is ready. International festivals will be a main part of our strategy for the worldwide recognition of the film. The project will be structured as a German-Arab project, raising German as well as Arab funds, television and distribution partners and possibly equity. We are aiming to go into production in late 2014, filming in real locations in Cairo and the Sinai. We will also be researching other major Arab cities and deserts as substitute locations. Furthermore we are working on a concept to create an online world around the background stories and the characters. The transmedia elements will nurture the story, but also be used for marketing purposes. There is a large community interested in the idea of time travel which will also help to attract a wider audience during the production process.

An Egyptian professor travels back in time to save the son he lost.
Kasem Kharsa

Film Director, Production

Jessica Landt


production notes

directed by
Kasem Kharsa

produced byBeleza Film (Hamburg Berlin/Germany)
Jenfelder Allee 80
22045, Hamburg

total production budget
€ 750.000

current financial need
€ 727.000