Egyptian orgs up plex building, production

Zaky plans comeback with 'Haleem'

CAIRO — Emerging Egyptian “movers and sheikers” are poised to kickstart Egyptian production into greater numbers in 2005 from the 25 films produced in 2004.

New multiplexes will provide increased space for debut films made by up-and-coming directors in startup companies catering to a growing young film audience.

Recently established Good News 4 Me group started the year by greenlighting “Haleem,” a comeback vehicle for star Ahmed Zaky. Zaky, overcoming a critical health condition, will portray iconic singer Abdel-Haleem Hafez in a biopic that took writer Mahfouz Abdel-Rahman eight years to finish.

Director Sherif Arafa has gathered a top Egyptian and Syrian cast. Budgeted at 18 million Egyptian pounds ($3 million), the movie is part of a seven-pic deal between Good News and Zaky.

Also in production for Good News is “Imaret Yacoubian” (Jacobean Building), based on the controversial bestselling novel by Alaa El-Aswani that featured Egyptian gay characters. It stars an ensemble cast of vet Egyptian actors including Adel Imam and Nour El-Sherif. (Homosexual activities are illegal in Egypt.)

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Good News also says it plans to acquire more theater chains in addition to its three screen multiplex at Cairo’s Grand Hyatt Hotel.

The re-established Founoon film company, which was bought by Rotana Group and Kingdom Holdings in March, will also venture into film production in the Egyptian market. General manager of production Ayman El-Halawany and marketing general manager Glen E. Clack project a total of 12 Egyptian films for the Mideast market this year.

“Founoon plans to become a leader in entertainment, providing more than 55% of broadcasting content in the new year,” Clack says. He adds that Founoon plans to co-produce under the flag of free-to-air, 24-hour Rotana Channel, telecast throughout the Mideast.

In the multiplex world, bigger fish are now swallowing smaller neighboring plexes. The new City Stars 13-screens multiplex in Cairo suburb Nasr City, opened in November, has affected surrounding multiplexes, with El-Arabia’s Genina and Wonderland plexes reporting box office declines.

American films at the City Stars multiplex have brought in box office bounty, with “National Treasure” and “Ocean’s Twelve” each grossing $184,000 after only five weeks.

But City Stars must brace for two more Nasr City multiplexes opening soon. Egyptian Media Investment (EMI) and Genina (which will compete with its old Genina multiplex) plan multiplexes for this year.

Sherif Awad contributed to this report.