Egyptian filmmakers rejoice at Berlin

Mubarak's resignation celebrated at fest

Egyptian filmmakers at the Berlinale Friday celebrated the resignation of president Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of extraordinary people-power protests across the country.

But last night’s announcement — a day after Mubarak had vowed to stay on as a figurehead until elections in September — is unlikely to lead to any quick resolution of the democracy demands of the people.

And the country’s ongoing changes are promising to produce a wave of film and documentary projects chronicling the extraordinary protests now entering their 19th day.

Egyptian filmmakers are prominent in the frontline of the demonstrations, with dozens of leading artists participating in the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo.

Production and distribution shingle Al Arabia Cinema is planning to incorporate footage shot by protestors in a documentary of the unfolding events.

The company — set up 11 years ago to bring Egyptian film to international audiences — has been offered footage by filmmakers thronging the million-strong Cairo crowds and across the country.

Producer Mohamed Hefzy also has plans for a documentary, details of which he says will be announced soon. “It’s time to celebrate — then wake up and think what next. Freedom is one thing. But knowing what to do with it is another story,” he told Variety late Friday.

“Filmmakers in Egypt have been very active in this movement, including Amr Salama and Mohamed Diab, along with Wael Ghoneim, the Google executive who was detained for 12 days and came back to a hero’s welcome,” Hefzy said.

“Other directors like Ahmad Abdallah (‘Microphone’) have been on the frontlines of the protests and have faced beatings by the police, like Salama, who was badly beaten up on the first day of the protests.”

A number of directors and producers also had been busy capturing footage since the protests began, he added.

Sahar El Sherbini, Al Arabia Cinema’s international sales manager, said it was essential to capture history as it happened.

El Sherbini, who flew into Berlin from Cairo to rep the company at the market late Thursday night expecting to hear that Mubarak had already gone, said Friday’s announcement was what all Egyptians had been waiting for.

“This will give a big boost to cinema, art and creativity — you simply cannot count the number of actors and artists in Tahrir Square,” she said.

Events at home would not prevent Al Arabia Cinema doing business in Berlin, where it is repping two new films in addition to its catalogue, including Diab’s directorial debut “678.”

Diab was due in Rotterdam recently to present the film — about the widespread problem of sexual harassment of women in Egypt — but could not get a flight out of Cairo. The film preemed in Dubai and has already been picked up by Fortissimo.

A number of Egyptian filmmakers decided not to attend the Berlinale because it was more important for them to stay in Cairo and support the protests.

On Thursday, a group of filmmakers joined a group of lawyers during the demonstrations in Cairo in a show of defiance against the regime.

“The situation has become very dangerous,” producer-director Marianne Khoury said Friday by phone from Cairo just hours before Mubarak stepped down. “Things are changing every hour.”

“The people are very angry. They won’t leave the streets until Mubarak leaves,” she added.

Actor-filmmaker Khaled Abol Naga — who stars in “Microphone” — has been taking part in the demonstrations and tweeting regularly on events, saying Friday that Tahrir Square was getting full and that thousands of people were gathering in front of the presidential palace.

Prior to Mubarak’s resignation, he had tweeted that the embattled leader was pushing Egypt to the edge of either “a coup d’etat or complete explosive chaos.”

Even political leaders in Berlin are convinced that Mubarak’s exit is best for the country. Attending the Berlinale’s opening night screening Thursday of “True Grit,” former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Variety that Mubarak’s exit was “necessary.”