Egyptian cinema boosted by new directors

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The Independent Culture

Under the leadership of new directors, Egyptian cinema seems to have started to bounce back after two decades marked by low production and quality, films screening at a Dubai festival and elsewhere show.

Egyptian film production fell from about 85 movies a year in the 1980s to 16 by the end of the 1990s, due to funding difficulties and lack of state support.

But "it seems that the 2010 production will succeed in reaching 25 films," Egyptian critic Ali Abu Shadi said.

These new Egyptian films "speak boldly about taboo subjects," said Masoud Amralla al-Ali, the artistic director of the Dubai International Film Festival, which runs from December 12-19 this year.

Egyptian films presented this week at the DIFF, among them world premieres, touch on new subjects including sexual harassment and illegal immigration, with an audacity that was noted by critics.

With "678," first-time director Mohammed Diab paints an uncompromising picture of Egyptian society from the points of view of three women from different social classes united by their decision not to remain any longer as silent victims of sexual harassment.

It centres on Fayza, a mother and government employee who has to take the bus to work, on which she is subjected to unwanted touching; Seba, a wealthy jewelry designer subjected to a gang assault, and Nelly, a stand-up comic who is sexually harassed on the street.

Fayza, encouraged by her friends, decides to defend herself on the bus with a pocket knife, while Seba organises a self-defence class and Nelly becomes the first Egyptian to file a sexual harassment suit.

"The film is inspired by true events. Even when we were shooting some scenes, the actresses were harassed," the film's director said.

Diab said he "took enormous risks" by embarking on the project.

"I was lucky to have a producer who was not seeking immediate financial gain," he said.

Many of these new Egyptian films are self-financed and shot in digital format, and avoid using Egyptian movie stars who demand astronomical fees.

"Cairo Exit," directed by Hisham Issawi, tackles several tough topics, focusing on a love story between a Coptic Christian girl, Amal, and a Muslim boy, Tarek, who plans to leave Egypt on an illegal boat crossing to Italy.

When Amal becomes pregnant, Tarek gives her a choice - leave the country with him or get rid of the baby. She rejects both options, and lets Tarek take the boat.

In "Microphone," director Ahmed Abdallah mixes documentary and fiction in his film on underground musicians and graffiti artists in Alexandria, Egypt.

Last week, the film was named the best Arab film at the Cairo International Film Festival, and won the Golden Tanit, the top award at the Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia.

Another Egyptian film, "Al-Shawq," directed by Khaled al-Hagar, won the Golden Pyramid at the Cairo International Film Festival, its top award.

In past years, the festival has had difficulty finding local films to represent the country once known as the "Hollywood of the Arab World."

Few Egyptian films produced during the past 20 years have distinguished themselves by their quality, especially because of producers who want films that are easy to market.

But with talented new directors and film production seeming to be on the rise, Egyptian cinema looks to be on the right track again.