First Published: 2006-05-23

Egypt new-look movies making waves at Cannes

Egyptian cinema aims to bridge mideast/west divide by creating better understanding of each other's culture.


Middle East Online

By Audrey Stuart - CANNES, France

Stars of 'The Yacoubian Building'

Egyptian cinema is making waves at this year's Cannes film market with a handful of audacious new-look movies exploring the region's social and political problems which are helping to fan Islamic fundamentalism.

The far-reaching aim of these films, however, goes beyond provoking a debate about issues that remain taboo.

The goal of the films' producers, Good News Group, is to bridge the Middle East/Western divide by creating a better understanding of each other's culture.

"We need to mend the bridge between the two cultures," stressed Emad Eldin Adeeb, the high-profile Arab journalist known locally as "Murdoch of the Nile", who founded and heads-up the giant media group.

"We are starting to open minds on a lot of taboos," he said in an interview, adding, "the time is ripe to start discussions."

"The Yacoubian Building", which scooped the prize for the best new narrative filmmaker at this year's New York's Tribeca Film Festival and, more particularly, a planned movie about the Al-Qaeda terrorist group, have been creating a stir here at the world's premier market for buying and selling films.

The pipeline movie about Osama bin Laden, head of the Al-Qaeda network and the world's most wanted man, has also caught the eye of Robert de Niro, one of the world's most respected actor/directors and co-founder of the Tribeca festival.

De Niro wants to see the script when it is completed next month, Adel Adeeb, Emad's brother and head of group's GN4 Film and Music arm, said.

But though De Niro is interested in the project, which will start shooting next year, he is not planning on playing one of the characters, he emphasised.

The movie will revolve around an imaginary meeting between an American journalist and bin Laden in which both men explore their completely opposing views of world politics.

"Our aim is not defend bin Laden" but to help create a dialogue between the Western and Middle Eastern worlds, leading to a better understanding between them, underlined both brothers.

"It's critical now to open up the issues and put them on the table," said Adel Abeeb.

The film will be a co-production and the group has already had an approach from a prospective French partner keen to be involved in the project, he said.

The Egyptian group's timing to do a film exploring the reasons behind the rise of Al-Qaeda looks promising.

Hollywood has shied away until now from being seen as cashing in on the September 11 attacks on the US. But clips from two new American films tackling the dramatic events were shown this week here at the festival and others are likely to follow.

With a strong slate of new films about to hit the cinemas and in the pipeline, Emad Adeeb is hoping to restore Egypt's large but often low-quality film industry to its former glory.

Although not selected for any of the competition categories at the 12-day festival, "The Yacoubian Building" has attracted enormous interest here from many North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon and Turkey, the group said.

The film is an adaptation of Alaa Al Aswani's best-selling novel, which has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into English.

With its faded splendour and impoverished group of motley occupants "The Yacoubian Building" mirrors the dilemmas and problems of modern day Egypt, which have also helped fan Islamic fundamentalism.

The big-budget film, along with Group's other new movie "Halim" about the life and struggles of legendary Arab singer Abdel Halim Hafez are both expected to score big successes throughout the region when they are released shortly.

"The Yacoubian Building", however, might also score internationally. The film has already been sold to France and will soon also be shown in the US-market.

Emad Adeeb believes the cinema is "an ideal vehicle" to stimulate discussion about taboo subjects such as political corruption, alcohol, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity. "We are starting to open minds on a lot of taboos," he said.

In a very young country where the average age is around 30 and Internet penetration is low, "movies can make huge changes," pointed out Emad Adeeb.


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