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‘Green Book’ set to open revamped Cairo Film Festival

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Exhibitors at Dubai show no signs of pulling back from Saudi

LOS ANGELES, Oct 30, (RTRS): The Middle East premiere of US director Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” will open the revamped Cairo Film Festival where Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” is also set to launch in the region and Ralph Fiennes will be feted with a career award.

Cairo’s upcoming 40th edition, which will run Nov 20-29, bears the stamp of a big push by its new president, Egyptian producer Mohammed Hefzy, to give the oldest film fest in the region new luster following a period of decline partly due to the country’s post-revolution turbulence.

Hefzy and artistic director Youssef Cheriff Rizkallah have unveiled a large lineup mixing recent standout titles plucked from the international circuit with a rich assortment of fresh Arabic fare.

Kazakh writer-director Sergey Dvortsevoy and actress Samal Yeslyamova will be coming to Cairo for a gala screening of drama “Ayka”, which competed in Cannes; Argentine director will be making the trek with his San Sebastian opener “An Unexpected Love”, with the romancer’s lead star Juan Vera also in tow; Filipino auteur Brillante Mendoza, who is also on the jury, will be screening his “Alpha, the Right to Kill”, and hold an onstage conversation.

As previously announced, Oscar-winning Danish director Billie August will preside over the jury.

Besides these clear indications of the effort to raise its international profile, Hefzy has also reinstated the event’s industry component, the Cairo Industry Days, and the Cairo Film Connection co-production platform, which had been scrapped. This year Arabic film projects in various stages will be competing for a total of $110,000 in cash prizes.

Festival entries will be eligible for a new festival audience award voted by the public worth $20,000 to be equally divided by the film’s producer and its local distributor.

Comprises

The Arab Film Competition section comprises new works from veterans and newcomers such as Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s black comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage”, Tunisian auteur Mahmoud bin Mahmoud’s “Fatwa”, and Egyptian first-timer Amir El-Shenawy’s “Kilo 64”, about a young man who leaves his well paid job in the pharmaceutical industry in Cairo to start farming outside the city.

First-time Egyptian-Austrian director A.B. Shawky, whose unconventional road movie “Yomeddine” competed in Cannes and is Egypt’s candidate for the foreign-language Oscar, will preside over the Arab competition jury.

A special nine-title sidebar will be dedicated to celebrating female Arab directors which will also be the topic of a panel for which Palestine’s Annemarie Jacir (“Wajib”); Algeria’s Sofia Djama (“The Blessed”); Tunisia’s Kaouther Ben Hania (“Beauty and the Dogs”); and Egypt’s Hala Khalil (“Nawara”) and Hala Lofty (“Coming Forth by Day”) have been recruited.

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LOS ANGELES: Hollywood may be reassessing its ties to Saudi Arabia following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But at a big international film industry conference underway in the Middle East, there are no signs anyone else is thinking about pulling back from what continues to be considered a global top 10 movie market in the making.

More than 500 film industry delegates from 45 countries are gathered at Dubai’s Grand Hyatt Hotel for the first edition of the MENA Cinema Forum, where “a lot of the discussions were about Saudi Arabia,” said the event’s director, Leila Masinaei. But Masinaei noted that, while some people did address the Khashoggi scandal, “everyone is trying to keep politics and business separate.”

Khashoggi’s disappearance inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 prompted a number of foreign media moguls, including several US executives, to pull out of last week’s Saudi government-backed investment conference in Riyadh. After repeatedly denying any role in Khashoggi’s disappearance and death, Saudi officials now admit that Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated by Saudi agents with government ties.

The murder threatened to cast a cloud over this week’s two-day MENA forum in Dubai, which began Sunday. But the forum got underway as scheduled, with its attendance list more or lest intact.

The biggest delegations are from cinema chains such as AMC and Vox Cinemas, the two companies that have had the inside track in putting up movie screens in Saudi Arabia since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted the country’s ban on cinemas, in December 2017.

Regional execs from several US studios, including Fox, Paramount, and Universal, also made the trek to Dubai, as did Stan McCoy, president and managing director of the Motion Picture Assn for Europe, Middle East and Africa. In an e-mail, McCoy declined to comment on the Khashoggi murder, which has generated worldwide criticism and outrage.

The forum has “primarily been focused on Saudi cinema and the expansion plans of each exhibitor in the region,” said Gianluca Chakra, head of Dubai-based indie distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment. Chakra added that there “wasn’t really much talk about content, though, which kind of made it all about physical investment in the country.”

Vox Cinemas, which is owned by Emirati conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim, announced that it would be investing $100 million in Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone, with the aim of building 600 screens in the kingdom by 2022, CEO Cameron Mitchell said during a presentation.

Also eager to put up screens in Saudi Arabia are Mexican exhibition giant Cinepolis, Persian Gulf chain Novo Cinemas, and Indian chain Carnival Cinemas, all of which gave presentations in Dubai about their plans.

PwC issued its projection that Saudi Arabia would have 2,600 screens across 300 to 370 sites by 2030 and admissions worth $60 million to $70 million by 2030, for a total annual box office of $950 million.

PwC estimates that, factoring in revenues from concessions and advertising, which typically make up 35% of overall exhibition revenue, Saudi Arabia has the potential to generate total revenue of $1.5 billion in 2030, which would make it among the world’s top 10 movie markets.