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The dark halls of Egypt's movie theatres: The shaken industry

Temporarily closed rooms, cancelled or postponed festivals, adjourned film releases: The Egyptian cinema scene is one of the industries affected by the coronavirus-related measures

Yasser Moheb, Saturday 28 Mar 2020
cinema
An empty hall of the Egyptian cinema
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A real shock wave is currently shaking cinemas, artists, filmmakers and film buffs in Egypt, overturning almost the entire cultural calendar of the country.

Like many other industries, the world of cinema is feeling the brunt of the spread of the coronavirus. As part of the strengthed measures to combat the virus, the Egyptian prime minister announced new measures, prime among which is the closing of cinemas until the end of March.

"We are living in a tough and historic war, that against the Covid-19 pandemic, a war which is dangerous and during which priority must be given to the health of individuals and not to the means of entertaining them", underlines the producer Farouk Sabri, president of the Film Industry Chamber.

The economic impact is difficult to assess at this time. "We are currently unable to quantify them, as the situation can change from day to day," adds Sabri.

Since last week, cinema managers have closed their theatres, multiplexes or neighbourhood cinemas for several weeks.

"It's sad, it's even terrible for all the operators and staff of the projection rooms," sighs Gawdat Michael, manager of Galaxy cinemas in New Cairo.

"However, we strictly respect all decisions and measures taken by the state to maintain our health, or rather our life," he said.

Increasingly dark halls

Already affected by a drop in attendance since the spread of the coronavirus began in late November, some large theatres are suffering from the decision, while others wanted to welcome the public at all costs.

Today, the consequences are clearly felt in the dark halls. "During the mid-school vacation, a magical period of leisure, ticket sales were not up to par at all," said Mohamad Nabil, director of the Tiba movie theatre.

According to the most conservative estimates, "this crisis could lead to a loss of EGP 100 million and slow down the progress of an industry which had yet finished the year 2019 with fanfare", estimates Said Al-Sayegh, a specialist in Egyptian box office monitoring at the production company Oscar.

According to figures made available by the production companies, ticket sales recorded EGP 48.7 million from 1 January to 15 March 2019, compared to only EGP 29.2 million during the same period this year.

"Losses will certainly double," he predicted.

In addition, the possibility of a prolonged closure or limitation of spectators is worrying, especially since the lack of revenue directly threatens the remuneration of many artists and professionals.

However, the crisis seems to have only just begun, while concerns are mounting: who will compensate for the shortfall of owners and operators already affected and those who will be affected in the event of an extended closure?

"Certainly not insurance, which covers the economic loss of cinemas in the event of epidemiological risk or administrative closure," said Mohamed Nabil.

For the latter, the sector will not be able to be satisfied with the deferral of the payment of taxes and rents or the compensation of wages on this technical unemployment.

"Emergency solutions are absolutely necessary. This is what has happened in Italy or China, support from the state will be more than appreciated, "he said.

Box office paralysis

On the production side, we are also starting to feel the uncertainty and anxiety rising. Before cinemas were forced to close, some production and distribution companies were already concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the release of their films. Several studios have decided to postpone the release of their next films.

"There is a growing fear among producers, which could ultimately result in the blocking of the entire industry," noted Nevine Rashad, director of the Sun City movie theater complex.

Among the films the release of whichwas postponed is Maria, a new fiction about the Lebanese singer Maya Nasri, written by Ahmed Anwar and directed by Moataz Hossam.

The release of this film was scheduled for 18 March, but current incidents have forced the distributors to postpone the release to a later date, one that is not yet announced.

Another feature film reported: Aaz Al-Weld (The Dearest of Children), starring Mervat Amin, Dalal Abdel-Aziz and Sherine. Co-written by Sherif Naguib and Georges Azmi and produced by Sara Nouh, the film is expected to see the light during the Grand Bairam (Eid Al-Adha) season falling in summer.

Cancellation of festivals

The festivals continue to cancel their activities, some gearing for the postponement.

Let's start with the Visions Festival for Short Film, founded and chaired by Malek Khouri, professor of cinema at the American University in Cairo. The third edition of this event, which was scheduled this year from 11 to 19 March, has just been postponed, while opting for a new format.

"Respecting the global and Egyptian conditions that threaten all of society, we still refuse to completely cancel the holding of this edition of the festival, which led us to make it virtual this year, by screening the films selected on our Facebook page," Malek Khouri comments.

A few days ago, the organisers of the Ismaili Festival for Documentary and Short Films, which was to be held in Ismailia from 8 to 17 April, postponed their event.

After being confident, the festival management finally declared having arranged with the Ministry of Culture to postpone the festival to August.

"The Ismailia Festival must remain an exceptional event," said critic Essam Zakariya, president of the festival, in a statement.

“Given the current state of the global fight against the Covid-19, we will not be able to keep it on the pre-announced date, especially with all the activities that we have planned for.

This article was first published in Al Ahram Hebdo 25 March 2020 issue.

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