Is Egypt’s film industry monopolized?

CAIRO: Claiming that the “film industry in Egypt has been monopolized by a mafia” an Egyptian-American director, fugitive from justice over charges of inciting debauchery, called on President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to nationalize cinemas nationwide and establish a ministry of cinema affairs.

Wael Elsedeki posted May 18 a video clip dubbed hands off featuring a woman, Reda el-Fouly, dancing and shaking her breasts at the camera in close-up. The video stirred much public criticism, and Fouly is now being tried over charges of “inciting debauchery.” Elsedeki, however, has been in Tunisia since the video surfaced on social media.

“The clear objective of Sib eedi (hands off) is fame and to be well-known, but not to take pictures with people in the streets. When I am famous, I can talk and newspapers will report [what is said] and TV channels will broadcast the clip I made to send my message,” said Elsedeki in a video posted on his Facebook page Saturday.

Elsedeki believes that the film industry is monopolized by producer companies that do not “give chances for freshly graduated actors and actresses. Talking from Tunisia, the director said that when he returned from the U.S., where majored in film studies, he tried to direct or produces movies, but his requests were rejected by production offices.

“Trying me in Egypt is wired because there are movies and clips that include more (controversial shots) than what was shown in my clip,” Elsedeki.

Producer and scenarist Mohamed Hefzhy told The Cairo Post Monday that the concept of monopoly in the movie industry is “groundless,” adding that “there is a variety of production companies, and some United Arab Emirates partners participate in film industry [production.]”

However, a new generation of directors believe the industry has been monopolized since the 1990s,  although a few number of production companies have started to get through this “monopoly” by making films with new actors and actresses in a “commercial content,” Mohamed Adel, a producer and Journalist, told The Cairo Post Monday.

“Monopoly started in the 1990s when a wave of comedy movies emerged. Producers pay comedians big sums of money for their movies; hence, many stars started to negotiate their pay regardless of the film’s quality and message,” Adel said.

Offering highly profitable roles for actors consolidate the monopoly of big production companies, clarified Mohamed, whose film Helwan, That is Me was chosen for the Short Film Corner of 2015 Cannes Film Festival, adding that the purchase of original films and their copyrights by certain channels helped monopoly to stay in place.

“We have reached a point where some actors or producers interfere in production, influencing the movie industry,” Adel said.

“The government has allowed such monopoly by abstaining from producing films along with private companies,” Adel said. Films nominated for international awards were co-produced by private and state entities.

Ahmed Maher’s The Traveler, produced by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and producer Alberto Luna, was nominated for Golden Lion of the 66th Venice film festival, Adel noted.

“Now, the government does not give new directors opportunities to screen their films in movie theaters, except for few private cinemas.” Winner of Best Director from the Arab World at the 2012 Abu Dhabi Film Festival Coming Forth by Day was in the box office for a short time, Adel continued.

He also blamed the state for not adopting a low-cost and well-produced short film industry although they are capable of receiving international awards, saying “the documentary Jews of Egypt received the Best Director award at Malmo film festival in Sweden in September 2013.”

The audience’s taste is one influential factor of monopoly that led to commercialize the movie industry; for example, some production companies target residents of slums, according to Adel.

Such films are “catchy” and attract people, Adel said. However, people began to watch documentary films after the 2011 revolution, he added.

“Unfortunately, film monopoly forced people like Wael [Elsedeki] to think that rudeness is the best way for fame,” he added.

For decades, Egyptian movies were the most popular in the Arab world. While they still maintain a degree of popularity, they have lost much of their values among the Arab audience in recent years.

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