Measure would be boon for biz

CAIRO — Draft legislation is soon to go before parliament that could mean good news for distributors and exhibitors of U.S. and other foreign films — as well as for Egypt’s own ailing film industry.

The draft law, drawn up by Egypt’s cabinet, would reduce taxes on cinema tickets from 55% to 10% for foreign films and from 20% to 5% for Egyptian product. Tickets to other entertainment venues would likewise be slashed: from 30% to 5% for opera and ballet performances and from 30% to 10% for legit theater tickets.

Such reductions are long overdue, say entertainment industry denizens. For many years the government has viewed cinema and theater as taxation cash cows, and the Draconian levies have put the cost of an evening’s entertainment out of reach for middle-class Egyptians, inevitably hurting showbiz here.

For example, out of some 450 cinemas nationwide, only about 150 have been operating full-time — in a country of 62 million people, one that pioneered Middle Eastern filmmaking back in the 1920s and ’30s. About 300 moviehouses are sitting idle — especially in the provinces — because locals cannot afford prices for heavily taxed tickets, and owners in turn cannot afford to shell out money for badly needed renovations and new projection and sound equipment.

Fewer cinemas

Indeed, outside the major cities of Cairo and Alexandria, there are simply not enough operating cinemas to ensure wide distribution of titles, which, in turn, has had a deleterious effect on Egyptian filmmaking. Some producers have simply thrown in the towel on movies and moved into more lucrative ventures, such as tourism.

Last year, only 16 feature films were produced in Egypt — a far cry from the halcyon days of the 1950s and ’60s when the country turned out as many as 100 new titles a year.

In addition to the proposal to cut cinema ticket taxes, the government has also issued a decree providing tax holidays to businessmen building new cinemas.

Already taking advantage of this incentive is a Cairo-based company called Egypt-Renaissance: It has built two houses in Cairo as well as Egypt’s first multiplex in Alexandria.

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