26/04/2013

Where is Egyptian cinema headed?

Egyptian cinema today, or the temptation of halal films

Industry, Egypt

Where is Egyptian cinema headed?

Deserted film theatres due to a lack of security, widespread film piracy, and film distributors who pay the price. And beside public disaffection, there is also an exodus of film professionals such as actors and technicians. The "Hollywood of the East" now stands in the shadow of Dubai and Beirut, writes Eder Lizi for Africultures.

The Egyptian Chamber for the Film Industry has reported a record drop in revenues for the first half of 2012. Producing a film in Egypt today is akin to a suicide mission, said the chamber's president Sayed Fathi.

But should we see the crisis of Egyptian cinema as a direct consequence of the Islamists’ arrival in power? According to many colleagues in Cairo, the Arab Spring only accelerated a crisis that was already looming.

"Egyptian cinema is losing ground in its historic sphere of influence," says producer Hani Gerges. More precisely, this has been the case since the Gulf emirates started investing in image and the audiovisual sector as tools of "media diplomacy". And Beirut's cultural revival has only exacerbated Cairo's decline, in a competition where Egypt, after being the frontrunner in the race for so long, is now falling behind. Egyptian films no longer make anyone dream, says Gerges: "Sales abroad keep dropping."

While all seem to agree that it's an economic crisis, some point out that it's also a political one. The position of Morsi’s government, with its Islamist majority, "gives little reason to be optimistic," says director Magdy Ali. "In the past, we had to negotiate with financiers. Now you can add the Committee of Moral Order to that. "

"But we won't make any concessions," warns the young director.

Since the Nasser era, filmmaking has happened under the supervision of the Censorship Committee for Artistic Products. Deemed "liberal", the committee was rarely heavy handed towards Egyptian artists. But the Islamists’ arrival has foreseen a change in tone. Three film projects have already been rejected, including... the remake of a film made and distributed in 1957.

And the Morsi government has decided to create a second censorship committee to coexist with the first. But this would not be "double censorship" as the new commission would be made up of professionals, says George Ishaq, a member of the National Council for Human Rights. However, the new commission will be subject to the opinion of al-Azhar, the foremost religious authority in Egypt.

For many Egyptian artists, this confirms a crisis of confidence.

Yet powers in place genuinely defend themselves: "We have produced work by about 100 music bands, and a big TV series is currently in production," says Fathi Shihab Eddine, president of the Egyptian parliament's Culture and Tourism Committee. Morsi himself "praised art and creation during his second speech as an elected president."

But fears remain, and they relate to content, says film critic Ahmed Shawky.

"The music produced in Morsi's era is essentially religious." As for the television series currently being produced, it recounts the Islamic conquest of Egypt and Sudan. The ruling party wants to impose licit standards for creation, says Shawky. "Moral order" seems already to be on its way.

 

Source: Eder Lizi for Africultures

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