Challenge perks vet helmer

Chahine takes chance with musical comedy

CAIRO — Director Youssef Chahine is finding that, even at age 76, he is more adventurous than the filmgoers in his homeland of Egypt.

Chahine’s latest pic, “Silence, We’re Rolling,” a musical comedy with slapstick elements, revolves around a singer-actress (Tunisian singer Latifa debuts) saved by her screenwriter and director from the clutches of a gigolo. The film, financed partially by France’s Canal Plus in a pre-buy TV deal, opened at 23 theaters in Egypt and made roughly $250,000 during a three-week run. “A musical like this hasn’t been made in the last 20 years in Egypt, and maybe that’s why it didn’t do so well at in the box office here,” says Chahine, best known for films such as the 1979 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Special Jury Prize winner “Alexandria … Why?,” “The Land” (1969), “The Immigrant”(1994) and “Destiny”(1997).

Chahine, who studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, Calif., in the late ’40s, says that in “Silence,” he applies new animation techniques to a traditional Hollywood musical, and laments that local audiences “couldn’t understand the new style.”

Euro rights holder/distrib Flach-Pyramid has picked up the film for distribution in most Euro territories. After receiving favorable notice at a special screening in Venice, Mikado picked up the film for Italian distribution in a deal through Flach-Pyramid. Pic also screen at the New York and Marakesh Intl. film festivals. Pic was a particularly difficult shoot for Chahine, who suffers from heart trouble and was forced to make repeated trips to the hospital.

“There was high tension on the film, and I almost died during the filming,” says Chahine, who adds that students filled in for him so that the production could continue, while his nephew Gabriel Khoury, G.M. at Chahine’s Misr Intl., made sure the production end was secure.

Khoury also oversees operations, including buying films, for Chahine’s Cairo multiplex Odeon, which screens American and Egyptian films and is one of the more popular cinemas in the city.

Still, Chahine is not the retiring type. His film company, Misr Intl., will produce three new films (two co-produced by Egyptian TV) and is co-producing an Egyptian TV series on Egyptian women pioneers by six young directors.

“I want to break new ground to counter what I feel is the overriding mediocrity in Egypt cinema,” Chahine says.

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