Egypt’s biggest pic sees boffo bow

'Yacoubian' admissions exceed 60,000 on its first day

The biggest-budget Egyptian film to date has finally preemed in its native country. The $4 million “Yacoubian Building” received a rapturous response from the 2,000 strong audience following its unveiling at the Cairo Opera House, which had to install extra seats due to unprecedented demand.

Opening on 70 screens — roughly a third of all screens in Egypt — “Yacoubian” immediately sold out its opening performances, despite its near three-hour running time and challenging subject matter. The film’s producers, Good News Group, told Variety that admissions had exceeded 60,000 on its first day. “It has been our dream that one day people would really appreciate this kind of art. It’s a victorious moment for us but we have to be cautious and see how things will go in the long-term,” Good News chairman Emad Adeeb says.

Pic, based on Alaa Al-Aswany’s controversial bestselling book, has an all-star Arab cast including Adel Imam and Hend Sabri.

“Yacoubian” tells the story of a group of Egyptians living in an apartment block in modern day Cairo, and tackles hot-button issues such as Islamic fundamentalism, corruption and homosexuality.

Despite rumors of threats by some extremists to target the film, and reports that authorities were unhappy with some of its unflattering portrayals, Egyptian censors have unexpectedly allowed the film to pass completely uncut.

Good News execs also revealed it would be the first fully Egyptian-funded pic to receive a Gallic theatrical release, after Bac Films picked up worldwide rights for the pic. Bac will be releasing the film in France in August. Pic has spent the past few months touring film fests, including Berlin, where it received its world preem, and Tribeca, where it scooped the prize for best new narrative filmmaker for helmer Marwan Hamed.

Despite the film’s triumphant opening, however, some clouds remain on the horizon. Al-Aswany, whose book sold more than 100,000 copies across the Arab world since its 2002 publication — in contrast to average book sales of 2,500 — complained to local reporters that he had been barred from attending the Cairo preem by officials due to his political beliefs.

“It was not the producers, but the authorities who rejected my attendance because I am a member of the opposition movement Kefaya,” he says. Also looming is the threat of lawsuits against the film and its producers. “We live in a country where anybody has the right to sue anybody, but we will win. We’ve already faced two court cases and won them both,” Adeeb says.

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