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Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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Interview with SHERIF MANDOUR, on cinema in Revolutionary Egypt.

 

SHERIF MANDOUR, A Revolutionary Filmmaker in Revolutionary Egypt.

 

In the ancient land and rapidly transforming lifestyle of modern Egypt, producer Sherif Mandour is a man of his time. Apart from achieving worldwide acclaim, his last three films produced were predicting the revolution, a revolution from without and within.

Through his longtime career in cinema, Mandour had worn many hats as an actor, director, distributor, commercial voiceover, producer and most recently, a member of the board of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF).

Mandour started his career working as a child actor – he was just 7 years-old. During his university years he worked as an assistant director in TV and cinema, after which he attended the Film Institute in Cairo. In 1998 Sherif produced and directed the first Arab sitcom called: “What are you Doing?” (“Wenta Amel Eih”), a 25 minute show that ran for 30 episodes. “The format was very new for the Arab world because we used to have the soap operas but not the sitcoms,” Sherif says, “It was Egypt’s first sitcom and I directed and produced it.

In 2001, he began producing feature films, starting with “Eye of the Sun” [Ein Shams] (2008) by director Ibrahim El-Batout, which was screened and selected in more than 45 festivals; “Heliopolis” (2010) by Ahmad Abdalla, which screened in over 55 international film festivals; and most recently, “Cairo Exit” (2010) by director Hesham Issawi.

“Cairo Exit”, which was filmed without a permit in 6 ½ weeks just before the January 25th revolution in Tahrir Square, tells the story of life in Cairo pre-revolution. Like Brazil’s “City of God” (2002) meets Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, two star-crossed lovers struggling in contemporary Egyptian life dream of escaping Cairo’s slums and Egypt for a better life. “Cairo Exit” premiered in the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2010.

I spoke with Mandour upon his return from the Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF), 2012 where he was representing the film. Despite the film’s acceptance into the festival, it was banned from screening.

“The film was banned because of censorship. I thought things will change now after the revolution but nothing has changed really. Internationally, the film created a huge buzz because I had a lot of interviews last week including Good Morning Britain and CNN,” Mandour explains.

During the film’s shoot, Mandour was called in twice by police for investigation. According to Egyptian law shooting without permits in Cairo is a minimum two-year jail sentence.

“I told them that I will happy to go to jail, they will simply turn me into an international victim and the value of the film will increase five times,” Mandour argued. So rather than arrest him, the Egyptian authorities decided to ban the film, he adds noting that they had to smuggle the film out of Egypt and took the film to Poland for post-production.

Asked about what it is like to be a producer in a country going through a revolution, Mandour replied: “The Egyptian crisis in cinema didn’t start with the 25th January revolution. It started a couple of years before the revolution when the financial crisis hit the world.”

Egypt has always been known as the Hollywood of the Arab world on account of the volume and quality of films it produces; however, it was impacted greatly by the worldwide economic crises of recent years. Egypt used to produce 80 films a year but now produces about 40 films a year. In a country with over 200 theaters, Box Office numbers are the film industry’s main source of income- Egyptian films earning an estimated $50million and Hollywood films in Egypt $10million annually. Due to piracy, there is virtually no DVD market in Egypt.

Sherif draws a black picture of film production in Egypt saying that local art-house films can’t be distributed anymore and that people don’t go to the cinema as much anymore because tickets are quite expensive.

“Most of the people in Egypt now go to see low cost thrillers action movies or even comedy movies, they don’t want artistic films. They want to watch something funny, they want to forget their harsh reality. So, it’s really difficult and we’re struggling to survive in this environment. It’s really hard,” he claimed.

For Mandour, being a board member to the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), which will take place in November 2012, is a challenging job. The festival was canceled in 2011 due to Egypt’s current political situation.

“It’s the 35th edition of the festival but it feels like we have to build it up from scratch as there is so much to do,” he notes. “It’s a big event, it’s not Cannes, but we want to make look like Cannes.”

 

-Written By Vanessa McMahon, March 8, 2012.

Also see more MENA film news in Variety Arabia news: www.varietyarabia.com

 

 

Sherif Mandour

 

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