Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed, the director of “The Yacoubian Building,” “The Blue Elephant” and “The Blue Elephant 2,” one of the highest-grossing Egyptian films ever, is shooting “Kira and El Gen,” based on Ahmed Mourad’s book “1919,” about Egyptian resistance to British occupation. He spoke to Variety about the project at the Cairo Film Festival.

Produced by Ahmed Badawy, managing director of Tamer Morsi’s Synergy Films, the budget is north of $10 million, making it the most expensive film in Egyptian cinema history. The film stars some of the biggest names in Arab cinema, including Karim Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Ezz, Hind Sabri and Ahmad Malek. British actor Sam Hazeldine also appears.

Hamed says that the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia with its sizeable box-office potential has created a landscape where Arab financiers can plan for better returns on films. “What actually encouraged such an investment is the Egyptian box-office numbers from 2019 and the new Saudi market, which is a big market, and one that has a great appetite for Egyptian films,” Hamed says. “The Saudi cinemas are always fully booked, even after lockdown the movie theaters were not performing badly.”

The film has shut down twice because of measures brought in during the global coronavirus pandemic. This ensured the scheduled 2020 completion date was pushed back. “We have shot almost 50%,” says the director. “We are hoping to finish everything and wrap up in the middle of 2021, to release at the end of 2021.”

Even without the global pandemic, it’s been a challenging shoot. “I’m very happy with what we shot, but it wasn’t easy because it’s a period film set 100 years ago,” Malek says. “We need to recreate everything, whether on-set or with visual effects, so that was a very big challenge for us. It’s the first time I made a big period movie like this; maybe I have done a couple of sequences in my films, but this one is major.”

The film contains huge street scenes with many extras depicting the demonstrations from the 1919 revolution. “They were real underground heroes. When you look in depth at what happened in Egypt in 1919, I think it was one of the greatest revolutions ever because you always have to remember they acted against the British empire,” says Hamed. “Also, I get to show something about the social fabric of Egypt that is very different to now, which is important to show and I think that will be something important to see for the audience in or outside of Egypt.”

Despite the delays to production, Hamed is battling to stay within the original budget as he sees it as part of the fight to save cinema. “We are trying very hard to keep costs down because at the end of the day we are all part of the industry, and we know that the whole industry is at stake in a way, especially movie theaters. We are all reasonable about staying on budget, yet at the same time we want to produce a film that meets all the expectations around the film that will be something that we will be proud of.”