Egyptian cinema crisis: problems and solutions
Since the revolution of the 25th of January 2011, Egyptian filmmakers and film stars have been trying to overcome the problems surrounding the Egyptian film industry. Besides the huge decline of the artistic quality of the few films that have been released during the last three years, filmgoers preferred to stay away from the box office for many other reasons including the periods of curfews and the pirated copies of Egyptian films that can be found across the internet or on some Middle Eastern satellite channels. This business environment affected many players in the film market to the point that they preferred to indefinitely shut down their operations until signs of changes in the country appear.
In the meeting that was held last October between leading Egyptian filmmakers and a group of Egyptian ministers, the Egyptian cinema crisis was heavily discussed from several angles, artistic, financial, touristic and industrial. However, many film producers were absent from the meeting given the fact that similar meetings with no effective results were held with past Egyptian governments.
The first initiative to resolve the production problems of Egyptian cinema is to create other means of funding. For instance, like many models in Europe, an Egyptian cinema fund should be created with a budget destined to producer high artistic films with moderate budgets (2 millions Egyptian pounds per feature film, for instance). The fund would be the center source of discovering new talented Egyptian filmmakers who can be give the chance to direct their own feature scripts for the first time. Another initiative is to set the notion of Crowd-funding in Egypt. This new tool has started already in the internet through websites like IndieGoGo.com and KickStarter.com in the US. The main idea is to let filmmaker launching their script and ideas across the internet to seek support from any interested individual or organization. This support can vary from 1 pound to zillions of pounds. Crowd-funding has been very successful in the United States and Europe with over $2.8 billion raised in 2012 over 450 crowdfunding sites. Crowdfunding has already started in Dubai through a website called Aflamnah.com, co-launched by Vida Rizk who used to work in Showtime Arabia years before. Although it has only been active for less than a year, Aflamnah has already raised enough money to provide financial backing for over a dozen Arab-produced film titles. The most successful so far has been When I Saw You, a film by Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir that received over $10,000 from Aflamnah supporters and won the Best Arab Film award at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) and the NETPAC award at the 2013 Berlinale amongst others. A panel with Aflamnah and other production entities has been held in the 2013 edition of ADFF.
Another source of income for the Egyptian films industry is inviting films to shoot in Egypt. Compared to Morocco that became the host of several international productions, American like Ridley’s Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and French like Astérix & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre (2002), Egyptian laws are too complicated to bring foreign filmmakers to shoot across the country. First, the customs on imported film equipment are too expensive. Second, licenses and shooting permissions in touristic and historical locations are too complicated to be obtained in a short period. Also, it is very complicated for the Egyptian military to accept to help with helicopters or extras if great battle scenes are needed to be shot. In order to resolve these constraints, not only new laws should be created but also a film commission should be implemented in a similar way to the ones in Morocco and Jordan. Such commission would be the sole entity to be approached by international filmmakers to get all the needed paper works finished in one building.
Another method and source of income for Egyptian filmmakers is to allow legal pay-per-view and royalties across the internet in websites similar to Netflix and Amazon in the US. Also, the idea has already been realized in Emirates with the launch of Yalla TV, an online platform for watching Arabic films in a legal way online. If distribution deals can be made with Yalla TV or similar website, this could create a resurrection for Egyptian cinema. Independent Egyptian production, whether it is feature, short or documentary, is still making waves across the international festivals’ circuits. Ahmad Abdalla’s Farsh We Ghattah (Rags and Tatters), his follow-up to Heliopolis (2009) and Microphone (2010) was warmly received in Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Ayten Amin’s feature debut also competed in New Horizons Competition in ADFF. However such films, which belongs to the art-house circuit, does not get good marketing campaign or enough prints in the Egyptian multiplexes which diminishes their chances to recoup their production cost. The three films by Ibrahim El-Batout, Winter of Discontent (2012), Hawi (2010), Eye of the Sun (2008) had the same fate at the box office.
The problem faced by Egyptian cinema, basically feature film production, is not only quantitative. Although four films were only released in the last Eid al-Adha, a look at their titles and their subject should tell about the creativity crisis among screenwriters and directors. The top box office success from Eid al-Adha is called Hatooly Ragel (Bring Me A Man), which was an expression made famous by satirist Bassem Youssef on his show when it made fun of one of the Salafi sheikhs on the religious channel. The producer of Hatooly Ragel thought that he can gain some extra cash by naming this fantasy comedy that revolves about men being dominated by women. Al-Kashash repeats the idea of Ibrahim al-Abyad tha starred Ahmed al-Sakka in 2009 about a child being raised in a criminal environment only to grow to be chased down by the law. And the rest is the same: there is Kalb al-Assad (Lion Heart) from al-Sobky Family (produced by Ahmed the father, and directed by Karim the son). Regardless the subject, which is by the way about a child who grows in the life of crime inside a circus, Kalb al-Assad is a continuous variation on the character of Baltagiya (thugs) for actor Mohamed Ramadan who played last year two of those in Abdo Mootah and al-Almany.