Headline, September 08 2020/ ''' ARAB'S ''CINEMA'' AROMA '''


 AROMA '''


THE EGYPTIAN CENTRE FOR ECONOMIC STUDIES says the industry employs at least half a million people, 40% of whom are on fixed contracts. ''We've been paying staff and crew members for months and we had zero income,'' said actor Ramzy, who also manages a production company. 

CAIRO : Egyptian cinemas are slowly reopening after months of lockdown but the huge sector sometimes dubbed ''the Hollywood of the Arab world'' has taken a severe hit during the pandemic.

After theatres were shuttered because of Covid-19 from at least March to June, filmmakers and the wider industry are bracing for an uncertain future.''This year has been a great loss to the film industry in Egypt,'' actor Sherif Ramzy said. ''The industry came to a complete halt for months.''

Egypt has had a long affair with the silver screen and usually, cinema fans will queue outside the film houses for the latest romantic comedy, drama or action flick. But this year, major summer releases were put on hold indefinitely and production of many films was at least temporarily suspended.

Only a single film, the sci-fi comedy AI Ghassala [ The Washing Machine ]. was released during the Eidul Azha, which typically sees six or seven premiers every year.

In June, the government threw a lifeline to the reeling industry by allowing cinemas to open their doors but keep attendance capped at 25% to ensure social distancing. ''But even the partial reopening of theatres has not helped to get the ball rolling,'' added Ramzy.

'Zero Income' : 

For the industry, the public health crisis has dealt a severe blow at a time when Egyptian cinema has been struggling to retains its past glory as the region's creative powerhouse. Egyptian films have, for decades been popular across the Middle East and North Africa, profoundly influencing popular culture and spreading the country's vernacular. 

The industry had its golden age in the in the mid-20th century, when screen star Omar Sharif, the actor Gamil Ratib and director Youssef Chahine achieved world fame.

Classic Egyptian films captured life under British colonial rule, the decline of the monarchy and the formation of the republic under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The sector fell into decline in the 1970s, where the state's role in the industry receded and studios pumped out commercial fare critics slammed as formulaic and lacking in production values.

The sector was again hit by the political turmoil in the years, following the 2011 uprising that unseated longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, when production slowed and cinema audience declined. 

'Boost to Streaming' : 

Last year, the Egyptian film industry made 33 films, earning $72 million, according to an ECES report. The figure is small by global standards nut, in terms of revenues, it is still the highest in the Arab world.

''Projections for 2020 are far less. especially as dependence on ticket sales has now become too risky.'' explained producer Mohammed Hefzy. ''We will have to wait until a full return to normalcy, which may not be this year at all. Perhaps next year.''

Lockdows have boosted online streaming services everywhere and Egypt. Watch IT, which launched last year, became one of the biggest Players. Following the March launch of its #stayhome promotion, ''the service saw a huge increase of the subscription base,'' Moustapha Bekheet, its vice president and managing director, shared. 

During Ramadan, the service which already boasts more than 65,000 hours of online content, acquired multiple top series and TV shows. The Holy month brought an increase in daily active users of ''more than 89%,'' he added.

Hefzy, who is also President of the Cairo International Film Festival, said the transition to online platforms was ''a natural development,'' only hastened by Covid-19. 

They serve as a hedge for producers against losses, especially during the pandemic, he added. ''But they cannot substitute for cinemas,'' Heefzy clarified. The cinema experience remains unique and important and it should be preserved. [AFP]

With respectful dedication to the Actors and Artists of the Entertainment Industry, the cinema fans and goers, Students, Professors and Teachers of the World.

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