Not long ago, Egypt’s domestic film market was the envy of the Middle East. With 400 of the region’s 800 cinema screens and regulations severely limiting the distribution of foreign films, Egypt boasted a robust platform in which 80% of the films were homegrown.
But in the past few years, Egypt’s venerable film industry has become something of a victim of its own success. The biz experienced a breakout hit with Good News Group’s 2006 “The Yacoubian Building,” which fueled a boom that competitors say drove up production prices just as the financial crisis froze the market’s liquidity.
“The past few years have been quite difficult, not just for Al Arabi0a but for the entire Egyptian cinema industry, due to ongoing film piracy, which harms the industry to its core, while at the same time, movie stars and the rest of the industry’s charges are not exactly going down,” says Al Arabia Cinema production and distribution chief Isaad Younis.
The result has been a feeling of filmmakers squeezed from both sides, with stars demanding bigger salaries while the main buyers who helped fuel the boom, Rotana and ART, have slowed down their shopping sprees.
“The industry has gradually fallen into a coma,” says Misr Intl. Films producer Gabriel Khoury. “There is a large increase in the cost of everything that is related to the film industry at the moment, coupled with problems in distribution and selling to TV broadcasters.”
According to Rotana Studios general manager Ayman Halawani, Rotana has not stopped buying Egyptian films, which it releases throughout the region outside Egypt. However, he expects the industry to shrink even further this year.
“In 2010, the industry as a whole will be 25 films, but there is new demand from the TV channels,” Halawani says.