Dreaming pyramid schemes

Egyptian outfits try to lure overseas productions

The financial crisis, rising production costs and rampant piracy have packed a wallop to the Middle East’s longstanding film hub, dropping the number of productions from nearly 60 in 2006 down to about half that last year. But there is political will at the highest levels of Egypt’s century-old film industry to stop the slide by reaching out to international productions and tapping foreign sources of funding.

“It seems the government is interested in coming in and giving a push,” says Misr Intl. Films producer Gabriel Khoury, who has been working with the Egyptian Cinema Industry Chamber to help reduce the red tape facing filmmakers who want to shoot in the country. “They are reviewing all the rules and regulations concerning the shooting of foreign films in Egypt. They want to fix all the problems that exist now, because they realize this is a good source of income and experience.”

While there are no tax breaks or film funds on the scope of European countries, the government has been working to put together discount deals on airlines and hotels for film crews to attract foreign films, while also trying to set up a fund that would help young local directors produce between six and 10 low-budget films per year.

Helping foreign producers break through the bureaucracy might have direct benefits for Khoury’s shingle, which has been in talks with Disney about producing local-language films. Project is still on hold at present. Mouse House producer Rachel Gandin declined details, saying only, “We’re hoping to shoot our first Disney Arabic picture in 2010.”

According to Al Arabia Cinema production and distribution topper Isaad Younis, the Egyptian government and the cinema chamber have been holding intensive meetings to hammer out a new strategy to lure foreign productions to shoot in Egypt.

“We will not give the chance to other countries to build an Egyptian set while we have it,” she says. “When we watch a movie shot in other countries showing Egypt, we fall on our backs laughing from the huge number of mistakes. That we will not allow anymore.”

Meanwhile, Younis, an industry veteran whose shingle has been a production and distribution powerhouse within Egypt, has also been enticed by opportunities abroad. She is now working on establishing a production company in France, to be followed by a distribution company.

Her plans follow in the footsteps of the Good News Group, which helped fuel the boom times in Egypt’s film industry with the boffo B.O. from its 2006 hit “The Yacoubian Building.” Following the company’s appeal to find foreign partners at the Berlin film fest in February, chief exec Adel Adeeb is putting together a slate of 10 international co-productions to be made in Europe, and Good News is teaming up with the Paris-based Ile de France Film Commission to launch the first France-Egypt screenwriting workshop in Paris and Cairo this year. Egypt will be the invited country to the Capital Regions for Cinema co-production meeting in Cannes, which is co-organized by Ile de France and other European film commissions.

While it may be in something of a slump at the moment, Egypt’s film industry still offers a combination of talent and value that are unmatched in the region for Arabic films, according to Rotana Studios general manager Ayman Halawani. The Saudi-funded shingle makes the bulk of its films in Egypt and remains undaunted by the recent rise in prices.

“In the end, it’s cost-competitive,” Halawani says. “It’s not the cheapest, but it provides the most elements.”

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