Good News for Egyptian Film?

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As the new ScreenAnarchy representative of Arab film, I'm going to take this opportunity to assume that nobody knows anything about Arab cinema and without me you would forever live in the dark. Please forgive the condescention if this is all old news to you.

Arab cinema generally can be divided into two major classes:
1) European festival-bound films dealing with a specific social issue, i.e., Occupation, Misogyny, Colonialism - coming out of North Africa, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine/The Palestinian Territories (whatever you wanna call it). Production value is relatively high, dialogue and storyline subtle and the content is usually too political or too boring for Middle Eastern distribution.

2) Mainstream Egyptian films that are distributed theatrically throughout the Middle East and Africa. Cairo is, and has been for the past 65 or so years, the Hollywood of Arabic-language media production (this will be the case until Dubai's Media City blows them out of the water sometime very very soon). These movies tend to have low production value and are targeted at society's lowest common denominator. Whether comedy, action, or romance, these storylines are usually direct lifts from American movies with an extra splash of trademark Egyptian melodrama. That said, they aren't always bad, if you're willing to indulge in melodrama. Think Bollywood circa 1992, but without the flashy dance routines.

Now, this little background lesson was necessary in order to understand that the massive divide between these two markedly different types of movies may finally be closing. Thanks to the work of Cairo-based production company, Good News Group (lamest name in the history of the world), who have produced 3 films that seek to both entertain and inform.

The Yacoubian Building (Imaret Yacoubian)
The most expensive Egyptian movie to date, it's box office has out grossed any other film in the history of Egyptian cinema by far. Based on a best-selling book, it deals with power, corruption, sex, exploitation, poverty and extremism in Egypt; issues most mainstream movies would never think of even hinting at. But it does this in the context of some nice camera work and the work of lots of big name Egyptian stars. They got people to go to the movies AND watch something socially relevant. (I saw a rough cut of this movie at AFI last year and it wasn't great by Western standards, but definitely a step in the right direction).

The website and worst trailer ever

A bio-pic of one of the Arab world's most beloved singers, Abdel Haleem Hafez, who died of cancer at the age of 48. Coincidentally, the actor who played Haleem, Ahmad Zaki, who was one of Egypt's greatest actors (and one of my personal favorites) died of cancer in the middle of shooting the film - he was 56 - and his son had to act in many of the scenes. This was released in Egypt in July 06 and has also seen great success.

The trailer
A review

Mohamed Ali
A bio-pic of an early 19th century man (clearly not the butterfly/bee boxer) who is referred to as 'the founder of modern Egypt,' - although I'm not entirely comfortable calling Egypt 'modern.' Anyway, I'm sure this one, which is currently in pre-production, will be on par with the other two. Looking forward to it.

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SwarezOctober 14, 2006 1:52 AM

Well you were sertanly right about that trailer...oooff.
Good read.

ElusiveOctober 14, 2006 4:24 AM

A hearty welcome to you, Propagandin! :)

JasonOctober 15, 2006 12:50 PM

Considering that this site is obviously more into genre specific cinema, i'd like to hear more about films like Tarek El'eryan's 'Tito', Sherif (Haleem) Arafa's 'Mafia' & Ahmed Saleh's 'Harb Italia'.
Not easy films to find, especailly with Eng subs on DVD.

An Egyptian friend (who orders films for his parents from an online Arabic DVD store) said they were the 3 best films he'd seen in the last few years that might appeal to (non-arthouse) western audiences.

jamesApril 10, 2007 4:34 PM

or new on arab films???

propagandinApril 10, 2007 5:46 PM

Ah yes, career change. Thanks for the nudge, I'll try to get back on top of this.