If you have never stepped into the world of the late great Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, it is time you discover what you have been missing. Directing over 40 films and documentaries in his lifetime, Chahine left behind a staggering body of work and a legacy that continues to inspire the development of Egyptian cinema and culture.
For over 50 years, Chahine fearlessly captured the grueling realities of Egyptian society in his work, addressing highly controversial socio-cultural issues concerning sexual repression, individualism, religious tolerance and political corruption.
Chahine was not only a revolutionary filmmaker, but also a cultural visionary and a true renegade in the film industry. While some of his greatest achievements can be found prominently in the films he directed, it should be stressed that his prestigious production house, Misr International Films (MIF), continues to fill the void of his absence.
Founded in 1972 by Chahine, the ever-growing production house has produced over 45 films, documentaries and TV dramas, including the first of his four-part autobiography, “Iskinderiya…Lih (Alexandria…Why?)” and Yousry Nasrallah’s award-winning urban drama “El Madina” (The City).
Under the reigns of his familial predecessors, Marianne Khoury, Elie Khoury, Gabriel Khoury, Ramzi Khoury, and a small team of budding film aficionados, Misr International Films continues to pioneer the regional film industry through production and local development programs aimed to expand cultural dialogue and understanding.
The most recent of these projects is the Misr Film Focus Initiative. The brainchild of Marianne, the program aims to identify and cultivate six young Egyptian directors with the goal of aiding them in the production of their first or second feature film.
The project originated in April 2011, only a few short months after Egypt’s January 25 Revolution.
“The revolution has certainly affected the work we do [at MIF],” Marianne told Daily News Egypt. “Everything that happened has encouraged us to make these six feature length films. The revolution gave us courage.”
Like her uncle, Marianne understands the increasingly significant role of film on cultural development. In a country with an astonishing illiteracy rate nearing 44 percent (according to the 2006 World Bank census), film can act as a viable means of socio-cultural communication where literacy cannot, hence the dire need to identify and spawn the next generation of great film makers.
“The deadline for the project was in June ,” Marianne said. “We had an astonishing, 140 number of applicants, out of which six were chosen to enter into the two-year script development program and later, will be produced by MIF.
“We had to choose these films based off their potential, not the script itself. Some of the scripts were not complete and were only treatments, so it was important to identify the potential,” she added.
The chosen projects are Dina Hamza’s “The World is Mine” (When I’m With You), Mohamed Ramadan’s “Al Imam,” Mohamed Hamed and Tamer Abdel Hamid’s “Kilo 56,” Emam El Naggar’s “Suicidal Notions,” Yasser Naeim’s “Looking for Essam Abdulla” and Mohamed El Zayat and Mohamed Kadry’s “We are Going to Bury Mom.”
The two-year development program began this past October with an initial weeklong residency program conducted by internationally acclaimed script consultant, Jacques Akchoti. The program includes rigorous group workshops and master classes for writing, shooting, editing, and production, aiming to catapult the projects from scripts to screen.
“What is really interesting is these filmmakers need to express themselves,” Akchoti told DNE. “This is crucial given the changing social situation of the country. Even if they don’t say it, you can feel that there is some sense of responsibility to address and express what is currently happening.”
Akchoti said that there is a reignited interest in Egyptian culture due to the global curiosity peaked by the revolution. “Internationally, there has been more interest in films coming out of Egypt since the revolution,” he added. “It is a way to gain knowledge of how and what the people are actually going through.
“Films are visual, they’re emotional; they show how people think. Besides the political information we get on the news, films show everyday life, and that is what the world wants to see now [from Egypt].”
In the past, young filmmakers have struggled with an array of obstacles rooted in the corruption of the previous regime, most notably being censorship. Now, nearly a year after the fall of the Mubarak regime, filmmakers have an increasingly important responsibility to accurately portray the socio-political contexts of the times.
This alone transforms the obstacles into opportunities, and with the guidance and dedication of industry experts like Jack Akchoti, and Marianne Khoury, Egyptian filmmakers just may reclaim their leading role in the international film industry.
Follow DNE next week for an in-depth interview with Marianne Khoury about producing the upcoming fourth Panorama of The European Film.