The constant turmoil in Egypt is taking a toll on everyone there. Since president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster July 3, the media has focused on the political scene. But underlying the turmoil is the economy, which in Egypt has been in crisis since Arab Spring and the continuing global recession. Egyptians are hoping things settle down soon, but they are very concerned. Case in point: producer Mohamed Hefzy.
Despite the tumult of the past few years, he has maintained his film work. Unlike many of his countrymen, Hefzy and his shingle Film Clinic have found receptive audiences within the country and globally. The 38-year-old producer boycotted last year’s Cairo Film Festival in protest of what he saw as a political power grab by Morsi.
Yet in a clear sign of the complexities of Egypt’s current cultural policies, Hefzy in February was appointed head of the government-controlled Ismailia Film Festival, an incubator for Arab cinema. He sees the position as a chance to foster cinematic renewal within the country.
With the replacement of Morsi and his Islamic Brotherhood-run administration by the military, Hefzy’s outlook is cautiously optimistic.
“I expect we will have a better chance with a more liberal government, of higher freedom of expression and possibly more funding for independent film production, depending on the economic outlook within the upcoming year or two,” he says.
Film Clinic’s successes have included Ahmad Abdalla’s 2010 “Microphone,” about the hip-hop scene in Egypt’s Alexandria, a radical movie that was considered a harbinger of the Arab Spring. His upcoming Cairo-set 3D chiller “Site 146,” has Fox Intl. Pictures onboard.
On the TV side, Hefzy’s credits include Egypt’s first reality TV show, “Rayheen ala Feen ” (“Where Are They Going?”) about five Egyptian youths dealing with the post-Tahrir Square climate. The show aired in 2012 on U.S.-financed Arab satcaster Alhurra TV.
“The challenge is to mix things up with a slate that includes commercial movies for the Arab market and auteur films that can play internationally,” Hefzy says, “and to find ways to make them, despite economic and political problems.”
Hefzy moved to London in the early 1990s after graduating high school — the paradoxically named American College in Cairo . While studying metallurgical engineering to manage his family’s copper manufacturing plant, a job he still does part-time, he began forging screenwriting skills.
He founded Film Clinic in Cairo in 2006 after penning several scripts, including 2004 hit crimer “Tito,” helmed by Palestinian-American Tarek El Eryan. It became Hefzy’s stepping stone to recognition among filmmakers in Egypt, the powerhouse of the Arab film industry.
Besides production, Film Clinic runs screenwriting workshops where Hefzy and colleagues mentor aspiring talent.
Due to surface at a fall fest is Abdalla’s followup to “Microphone,” titled “Rags and Tatters,” about a prisoner who escapes from jail during the Tahrir Square uprising. The pic faced censorship snags in obtaining a permit to shoot in a Cairo mosque.
Film Clinic also has been broadening its pipeline with pics targeted to play across the Mideast, including Emirati helmer Ali F. Mostafa’s “A to B,” a road movie about three Arab youths who travel 1,500 miles from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in memory of their deceased best friend. Hefzy, who contributed to the screenplay, describes it as “ ‘The Hangover’ meets ‘The Big Chill’ in the Arab world.”
Hefzy is co-producing the mostly English-lingo “A to B” with two other young Arab producers with international chops, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al Turki (“Arbitrage”) and Lebanon’s Paul Baboudjian (“Here Comes the Rain”). Key co-financing is coming from Abu Dhabi’s government-backed TwoFour54 media hub. “I’ve never made a movie like this before; it’s really a rare case of a truly pan-Arab project,” Hefzy says.
Film Clinic’s output since the revolution includes docu “Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Politician,” by helmers Tamer Ezzat, Ayten Ameen and Amr Salama; and London-set gangster movie “My Brother the Devil,” the first feature of Welsh-Egyptian helmer Sally El Hosaini. “Devil,” which melds genre, an ethnic element and a gay twist, launched in 2012 at Sundance and got its Mideast launch in Dubai, though theatrical play in the region is unlikely, Hefzy admits.