Misr International Films (MIF), founded by late Egyptian director Youssef Chahine and the company behind the always eagerly awaited Panorama of the European Cinema, has launched Zawya, an initiative bringing art house and alternative films to one screen at Downtown Cairo's Odeon Cinema.
With an illustrious cinematic heritage, one would expect in Cairo to be able to find internationally acclaimed films from all over the world in at least some cinema halls. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Cinemas either host Hollywood blockbusters or Egyptian films — and often not even all Egyptian films. Commercially produced films tend to fall short on the artistic front, with only a few exceptions each year.
This is where MIF decided to intervene, reserving one screen in the Odeon Cinema for the Zawya project, showing alternative films, starting Wednesday, 12 March, with Saudi Arabia's "Wadjda."
Wadjda, the first Saudi film to be directed by a woman, Haifaa Mansour, was the Kingdom's official entry in this year's Academy Awards. It has been featured in several festivals and has collected a number of awards and critical recognition.
The film follows the young Wadjda in Ryiadh, an alternative rebel who dreams of having a bicycle like her male friend. Through her struggle to get that bicycle, in spite of financial burdens and societal pressures, viewers are invited into the world of women in Ryiadh and Saudi society at large, dealing with realities from segregation to the driving ban on women and other gender based discrimination.
Wadjda will be showing in regular cinema hours this week, and might be extended for another week. Zawya will also screen other art house films and independent productions from Europe, the Arab region and the rest of the world.
Local independent productions as well as international classics will also be screened.
Besides regular film screenings, Zawya will also host talks, special events, retrospectives, film discussions and master classes.
While Zawya is starting with only one screen in Odeon Cinema as a pilot, MIF hopes to spread the initiative to other screens in the capital, and other cities in Egypt.