Political strife often leads to powerful new waves in world cinema, from the WWII-era Italian Neorealists to the post-9/11 American cinema. It took several years for Romanian filmmakers to process their recent totalitarian past, but the results have been startling.
So what will happen in Egypt, which at one time was home to one of the largest film industries in the world next to Hollywood and Bollywood?
On The Guardian’s movie blog, there’s a post today that surveys the current industry conditions on the ground, but it doesn’t really get into what Egyptian filmmakers are actually doing.
The story’s main issue seems to do with Hollywood’s potential encroachment on locally-made product, as curfews in urban areas have hurt sales, sending revenues on Egyptian films plunging from LE100 million ($16.7 million) in 2010 to just LE20 million up to July this year, according to the story.
The article notes one recent film, “El-Fagoumy,” a biopic of poet Ahmad Fouad Negm, which tacked on news footage of the protests at the end of its 1970s-set story. But according to Antoine Zeind, president of United Motion Pictures, the film was a crude use of the country’s recent revolution: “I think people are not happy with these kinds of films,” he said. “It’s a repeat of something you saw in reality. I was not present on the ‘Titanic;’ there was no color TV then. That’s why I want to see ‘Titanic.’ But we lived during those days [of the revolution]. We saw everything on the ground.”
But during the upcoming film festival calendar, international audiences will have the opportunity to see the first major documentary on the subject, “Tahrir 2011: The Good, The Bad and the Politician,” which, according to a press release, follows three young Egyptian filmmakers who “picked up their cameras to shoot the Egyptian revolution as soon as the dramatic events unfolded, resulting in three unique portraits of activists, policemen and former president Hosni Mubarak.”
Unfortunately, other recent films on the fest circuit have not traveled well. The Venice Film Festival will be showcasing Ahmed Maher’s “Al Mosafer” (“The Traveller”), for example, but Variety critic Jay Weissberg said the film’s message “gets lost in flat artificiality.” At Cannes, Weissberg also trashed another new Egyptian film “The Cry of an Ant,” which also incorporates the recent revolution into its story, calling it ” tasteless opportunism made worse by the kind of screechy melodrama that gives populist regional cinema a bad rep.”
If such mainstream Egyptian productions have flailed, the best expression of a new Egyptian narrative cinema may be found in last year’s “Microphone,” an independent film by Ahmad Abdalla about the underground art scene of Alexandria that received top honors at the Cairo International Film Festival and recently played at New Directors/New Films in New York, and Mohamed Diab’s “Cairo 678,” another ND/NF movie, which The Hollywood Reporter called “a blunt but powerful portrait of three women of varying social backgrounds rebelling against the sexual harassment endemic to that country’s culture.”