In 2004, driven by a passion for cinema and a growing need for variety in the Egyptian film market, Marianne Khoury, film director and producer and co-manager of Misr International Films (MIF), launched the Panorama of the European Film, the 6th edition of which will run from 27 November to 7 December.
The initial idea was to screen a number of selected European films in Cairo for one week every year, giving Egyptians the chance to watch a new kind of cinema that rarely finds its way to Egyptian movie theatres since the majority of films distributed in Egypt are either local productions or Hollywood blockbusters.
“Cinemas in Egypt always show the same kind of films. We simply wanted to give Egyptian moviegoers more choices,” Marianne Khoury told Ahram Online. “It’s always a question of supply and demand. Our aim was — and still is — to create a market for European films in the country; to attract more audiences to this kind of cinema.”
To Khoury and the team behind it, the Panorama of the European Film is more than a series of film screenings; it is an ongoing process aimed at altering viewership trends and film culture in Egypt. “I am aware that one week a year is not enough to achieve that, and this is why we are launching a new project called ‘Zawya’; an extension to the Panorama that will keep it working all year long.”
Through ‘Zawya’ (Perspecitve), the latest intitative by MIF, selected European films will be screening in Egypt throughout the year, starting January 2014. The project will begin with two movie theatres, but is set to expand later.
“Today, young people who love cinema end up downloading pirated films from the Internet because it’s the only way they can watch them,” says Khoury, “I can’t blame them when they have no other choice, but now, with ‘Zawya’, they do. The best films from Europe will finally be available in Egyptian movie theatres.”
As another step towards reforming how cinema is viewed in Egypt, the Panorama of the European Film includes an educational component, where students from different schools around Cairo attend the film screenings, nurturing their love for the art and sharpening their critical thinking skills.
“This year, the Panorama is taking ‘Education and Cinema’ further, introducing the concept of cinema as a tool for education,” Khoury says.
A conference will be held 30 November and 1 December discussing how cinema can be used as a teaching instrument in various subjects, such as history, philosophy or literature. The conference will be attended by teachers, educators and specialists from different schools across the city.
Besides the new edge to ‘Education and Cinema’, the Panorama is bigger this year in other ways as well. For the first time, it will span 10 days instead of one week, and films will be screened in three multiplexes instead of two: Cinema Galaxy (Manial), Stars Cinema (City Stars) and Plaza Cinemas (Sheikh Zayed). The programme also consists of 50 films, more than those featured in any of the previous editions.
“The Panorama now is not an event you simply start organising three weeks ahead; it took one full year’s work and a team of dedicated, passionate individuals to bring this year’s edition together,” Khoury asserts.
“Another special thing in this year’s edition is that the ‘Emerging Directors’ selection includes filmmakers who are not European — two of them from Egypt,” Khoury adds.
‘Emerging Directors’ celebrates the work of upcoming filmmakers through screening their debut features during the Panorama. This year, it includes two Egyptian films: Ayten Amin’s Villa 69 and Hala Lotfy’s Al-Khoroug Lel Nahar (Coming Forth by Day).
The Panorama programme also includes five short films revolving around women in post-revolutionary Egypt, produced by MIF through the ‘Women in the New Egypt’ project.
“It was a very rewarding project because we opened the call for applications for only three weeks and received more than 70 applications,” Khoury says.
Ten of those applicants were selected for a workshop held by MIF, five of whom later won a production grant for their short films.
“We are planning to hold more similar workshops in the future,” Khoury says, “it’s very important for us to support young, independent filmmakers and equip them with the skills and resources they need.”
Khoury says that although organising the Panorama has met with many challenges throughout the years, she still wholeheartedly believes in the project and will continue building upon its success. “We still have a long way to go, though,” she insists. “We’re trying to transform people’s preferences and make it reflect on the market, on the industry. This is the kind of thing that takes years to happen; it’s a never-ending operation.”
“Everyone told me I’m crazy when I first started this because of how ambitious it is, especially that it’s very difficult and costly to make it happen,” Khoury says. “I do realize we’re dreaming big, but I’m all for experimenting, for taking risks … Change doesn’t magically happen overnight, does it?”
This article was previously published during the 6th edition of Panorama of the European Film.