In an unprecedented venture into the world of TV drama, Youssef Chahine’s Misr International Films (MIF) and BBC World Service Trust are bringing a new media platform to the Arab World; one they hope will evolve as “an agent of change.
During a press conference held Saturday evening, Marianne and Gabriel Khoury, chief executives of MIF, alongside BBC’s project director Abir Awad, launched the project, a joint effort aimed at nurturing young talent and tapping into social issues that will in turn contribute to the prosperity of society.
The press conference was attended by a host of stars, including director Khaled Youssef and film stars Lebleba and Khaled El-Nabawy.
“Today, we wish to follow Youssef Chahine’s philosophy which was to constantly tap into unexplored territories, Marianne Khoury told attendees.
MIF, a Cairo-based production and distribution company founded by late great Egyptian filmmaker Chahine, not only hopes to encourage the region’s budding talents but to promote quality Arab cinema.
While the production powerhouse has ventured into numerous collaborations in the past – notably via French co-productions – this is its first dive into the world of TV drama.
“This was a very good chance for us to present something new and a golden opportunity to carry on with the legacy of Youssef Chahine, said Gabriel Khoury when asked about the choice of television.
Revenues from this venture will be allocated towards the establishment of a Youssef Chahine Trust Fund tasked with providing financial assistance to Egypt’s non-commercial, independent filmmakers.
In terms of subject matter, what this specific project aims at is to challenge traditional schemes of storytelling in the Arab World.
According to Marianne, the initiative hopes to tackle important societal ills that will help raise people’s awareness of their rights as citizens and encourage an active viewership, an idea that is novel to the film industry in Egypt.
“We want to see drama series develop into agents of change, said Marianne, pointing out to the role television continues to play in many Arab homes.
“We’ve been observing Egyptian TV series for years and I think people are starting to grow weary of message-centric dramas, director Abir Awad told Daily News Egypt. “Arabic dramas have been influenced by production pressures with agendas imposed on the drama. We want to help create sophisticated, different work devoid of any external influence.
While a 15-day application deadline has been announced for the first round scripts the press conference discussed some of the criteria upon which works will be selected.
Precedence will be given to story lines that experiment with themes like religion, gender equality, challenging societal norms, relationships and marriage in the Arab world.
In addition, presented work “must uphold real characterization. Upcoming writers must base their characters on real life characters so the viewer can relate to them, said Marianne, stressing the importance of staying away from clichés and tired techniques that have been exhausted on screen over the years.
The format of productions is set to follow the traditional 25-30 episodes of 45 minutes each. However, the organizers remain open for adopting a more western take on the series format in the future, which would mean each episode can run for as short as 30 minutes and as long as 60.
The producers are also aiming to identify the target audience of each of the considered works, a key element that has been often neglected by Egyptian and Arab producers alike.
The BBC Trust Fund has a history of promoting media outlets in troubled regions in the world, including post-war Kosovo, Nigeria, Basra in Iraq and in Ukrainian prisons, although such ventures have been restricted to radio broadcasts.
But Abir says that this is not the BBC s first time to venture into the world of TV drama. “We’ve had a very successful experience in India. The series we’ve produced was very popular and had excellent ratings, she said.
Adopting a socially-conscious approach, the company aims at developing media outlets through funding and offering expertise that will aid both writers and filmmakers in producing and further developing their crafts from early stages.
As the agreement between the BBC and the MIF is still at its early stages, some issues and responsibilities will be tackled project by project.
For example, BBC’s funding might only be manifested in initial funding and the development of a proposed script. According to Awad, the company hopes that local and Arabic television stations will take notice of the ingenuity of their projects and become more eager to acquire, and further invest, in the developed work.
There was no exact indication as to the shares of each of the partners. But if BBC is to generate revenue, it will automatically go into funding the next project, and so on.
While MIF will be responsible for production and distribution, other production houses are also welcome to take part.
At the moment, young writers and filmmakers are encouraged to submit their work, and from then on, only time will pave the path to the success or failure of this innovative venture.
More information about the MIF joint venture with BBC World Trust Service will be released soon at MIF’s website: www.misrinternationalfilms.com.