Egypt: The “It” Player in World Cinema

By Liali Albana

July 6th, 2009

From New Muslim Cool to The Stoning of Soraya M., it looks like nuanced portrayals of the Islamic world beyond the days of Die Hard are all the rage in American film today. But although these expressions of cinema are making waves in the U.S., what about the output of the Arab world itself? The Egyptian film industry, for one, is proving to emerge as a major cinema player, with the Cairo Film Festival making increasing strides as the oldest film festival in the Middle East, and new transformations that are putting Egypt on the world cinema map.

Some highlights of the Egyptian film industry to date: Renowned director Tarek El Aryan has directed and/or produced almost a dozen films including Tito (with Ahmed El-Sakka), that have been huge local box office hits. No surprise that a common theme in all of his productions – and the industry as a whole – is the merging Western ideals with Arab culture. Take Cairo Station, the Arabic remake of the American film, A Walk in the Clouds. Although the original was a dud in America, the remake was an Egyptian hit, with heartthrob Karim Abdul Aziz in the lead role. Following in the infamous footsteps of Bollywood (the nickname for India’s exploding film industry), taking the best bits of the U.S.’s film leftovers is proving lucrative for Egypt too. But while A Walk in the Clouds was rated R, Cairo Station would be comparable to a PG rating.

Dating and pre-marital sex are more common themes that are becoming pervasive in Egyptian film. Taboo subjects like homosexuality (The Jacobian Building), divorce, and marital sexual satisfaction (The Peacock and the Ostrich) are issues now just beginning to be explored through film. Religious differences between Christians and Muslims are being are also being assuaged through the media of film. Hassan and Marcus was a hit that portrayed Omar Sherife and Adel Imam, the icons of Egyptian Film, in opposing roles of a Christian and a Muslim neighbor and the hardships they faced by extremists on either side.

Unlike the assembly line of film clones coming out of Bollywood, the Egyptian film industry seems on the right track, with booths at Cannes, a true union for its actors and even one of the biggest commercial success from last year – El Gezira (The Island) – submitted for consideration for the 2009 Oscars. With Muslims remaining the most closely watched community on the world’s political silver screen, the progress made by Egypt on the film front is more important than ever in guiding global perceptions.



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