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The team at Cairo-based marketing outfit MAD Solutions (from left): Maher Diab, Alaa Karkouti and Dina Ezzat

On Egypt’s front lines W

hen Hosni Mubarak bowed to mass protests and stepped down as Egypt’s president on February 11, the world witnessed a watershed

moment which ended three decades of eco- nomic stagnation, rampant corruption, state- controlled propaganda and movie censorship. But as sudden as this reversal appeared to the outside world, the truth is revolt was in the air well before the crowds thronged to Tahrir Square — as evidenced by a fearless brigade of young Egyptian film-makers who had been rat- tling cages ever since The Yacoubian Building made its debut in 2006. Typical of this new breed is Mohamed Diab,

whose Cairo 678 was showcased at the prestig- ious New Directors/New Films series in Man- hattan, having made its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival last December and then played in Rotterdam in February. Like The Yacoubian Building, whose kaleidoscopic view of urban Egyptian life included a gay rela- tionship between a newspaper editor and a police officer, Diab’s film offers an unflinching take on another of Egypt’s taboo subjects: the sexual harassment of women. Despite the “enormous risks”, Diab felt com-

pelled to make an “alternative” to his country’s cinematic mainstream “because, regardless of circumstances, you have to be able to make a film that you believe in”, Diab told a panel dis-

cussion in Dubai, where he echoed an Arab desire for personal empowerment widely expressed at the festival. “I have faced financial insecurities and expe-

rienced years with no projects, but it’s not about profit. I’m lucky to have a chance now to focus on reflections of real issues. I was just lucky to find a production company that accepted to fund my film because there is no mechanism whatsoever. It’s just random.” Just six weeks later and Diab would find

himself on the front lines of the protest move- ment where his vocal participation in urging Mubarak’s removal prevented him from attend- ing Rotterdam. Not surprisingly, given the growing strength of the renegade spirit in Egypt, Diab was not the only film-maker seen agitating for change — a fact that did not go unnoticed by the police forces.

Dangers for film-makers “Two of our clients were beaten up by police,” says Alaa Karkouti, whose Cairo-based film mar- keting company, MAD Solutions, typifies a wave of lively entrepreneurial start-ups which are fast rewriting the rules for business across the Arab region. “One of them, Omar Shargawi [the direc- tor of Tiger Award-winning Go With Peace Jamil] was taken into the desert with a group of other people. They eventually released him when they found out he was Danish — but that trip was the

n 18 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival May 18, 2011

‘I was just lucky to find a production company to fund my film. There is no mechanism

whatsoever’ Mohamed Diab, director, Cairo 678

Young Egyptian film-makers are emerging to portray their lives on the big screen. As Cannes pays tribute today to Egypt as its first guest country, Colin Brown asks if there is a market and finance for this new Arab generation

scariest moment ever. He didn’t know what would happen to him.” Now the dust has settled, life might well

prove awkward for those among Egypt’s well- established entertainment community whom the public identified with the previous regime. “There’s a sort of blacklist now for stars who

were pro-Mubarak,” explains Karkouti. Super- star singer and actor Tamer Hosny — the Arab world’s answer to Justin Timberlake — was among those who publicly criticised the pro- democracy movement before trying to recant in a tearful display of contrition which went viral on YouTube. “The revenues of Hosny’s next movie, Omar & Salma 3, will give a clear sign [as to] the effect of revolution on the box office,” he says. There is little doubt Egypt’s box office will

remain depressed for the next few months, at least in a country that is still adjusting after cur- fews put an end to the late-night show times that generate most of the income for Egyptian movies. Hollywood will have to wait to see whether its brand of entertainment will serve as welcome respite from the turmoil, or will end up losing out to local films that capture the zeit- geist and satisfy an Egyptian need to see local stories told on the big screen. For the time being, outbreaks of looting and a

general atmosphere of social unease means Egyptians are staying at home, where they are


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