Egyptian Cinema Industry
The Egyptian cinema industry has been recognized as the Hollywood of the Arab world for a long time. According to Schochat, It has always been the leading cinema industry not only in Africa but also in the Middle East (22). Film screening in Egypt dates back to as early as the 18th century, long before Egypt got its formal independence (23). Even as a colony, when it was under foreign rule, Egypt was active in screen filming. The first film was publicly shown in Alexandria around the same time when Egypt was set as the pioneer of cinema in the region by the Paris premiere. Due to the success of the early shows, some cinema halls started springing up in the towns of Alexandria and Cairo. The Egyptian cinema industry has travelled a long journey to become what it is today. Though successful, the industry has faced challenges. This essay explores the history of the Egypt’s cinema industry. It will further explore the challenges that are facing the industry and their genesis.
In its initial stages, the foreigners dominated the industry. Under the foreign rule, the Lumiere Brothers were the first to produce a film. The Lumiere brothers dominated the industry until 1906 when the France and Italian company joined the monopolized market. They brought new techniques into the market, which included sound effects and the sub-titling system. With this, the cinema industry begun to attract bunches of local audiences. Additionally, local Egyptians started joining the industry as workers (Schochat 23). The first cinema studio, Studio Amon Films, was founded one year after Egypt got its formal independence in 1922 by Muhammad Bayyumi . In the same year, he also started Amon journal, the first cinematic journal in Egypt. Having established the first cinema studio, Muhammad managed to meet the founder of the Egypt Bank, Talaat Harb, and together they started studio misr (Schochat 23). The bank embraced the noble idea of establishing a film studio, as this was to be one of the many investment sectors that it was venturing into. Studio Misr became the only film studio in the entire Arab world.
The movie theatres were a replica of the society’s pyramidal structure where the society was stratified into three stratums economically. The theatres were divided into the first, second, and third classes (Schochat 24). Different members attended each of the categories. The third class was famously known as ‘Cinema Terso’. This class was different from the first and the second class in terms of price and the programme. ‘Cinema Terso’ hardly presented any new release and the programme was recurrent. The ticket price in this class of cinemas was much cheaper than the other two classes. Due to this, the third class cinemas attracted a huge crowd of those who were considered poor. In the first and second-class cinemas, the population was low, ticket prices were high, and there was variety in the programme (Schochat 26). This was a true representation of the Egyptian society’s social structure.
Schochat portrays the movies of that time to have been characterized by one theme melodrama (24). For instance, the movie kiss in the desert, which was directed by Ibrahim Lama and lella, which was directed by Wedad Orfi, had a common theme and were all silent movies in 1927. By 1931, the cinema industry had undergone a significant change to an extent that sound movies were being produced. With the entrance of sound effect into the industry, a new genre of movies was born, the musical. Movies like Al Wardah al-Baida became very famous due the sound effect and wereshown in all the Arab countries (Schochat 24). The musical was characterized by dance and music, and dominated the film industry in the 1940s.
The film industry is usually affected by politics in the country. The Second World War affected the Egyptian film industry positively. During this time, it was very difficult to import films from America and Europe (Schochat 23). Local films were highly relied upon, which boosted the industry. The films were produced in large quantities. In 1952, there was a revolution whose results were the change from a monarchy system to republic system. King Farouk was overthrown and Nasser became the president.
With the Nasser regime, the film industry was affected by the rules that were put in place. The government decided that no film would be aired before its script was thoroughly scrutinized by the censorship department. Since Egypt was Muslim-dominated, the censorship department did not tolerate some taboos. The taboos included some political ideologies, religion, and sex. However, the government looked eager to support cinema production since the leaders recognized it as a vital tool for national building. Through the film industry, the nation could be united or divided. The regime therefore fought for total control of the cinema industry.
After the 1952 revolution, the new attitudes of the Egyptians informed the theme of the movies that were produced (Schochat 26). Movies that had previously been banned by the Farouk regime were brought back to the big screen. Tabishat exposes that there was a lot of criticism for the monarch regime, and thus patriotic feelings of the current regime inspired the theme of the films (382). For example, in the film Rodda Qalb of 1957, a military officer became the main character for first time in the history of the Egypt’s film industry. Consequently, the film attracted immense viewership and is still famous up to date. The military spirit was also welcomed in the comedy films of the time.
The period from 1940 to 1960 has always been considered as ‘the golden era of Egyptian cinema’ (Darwish 12). Before then, it was not possible to vividly differentiate between the Egyptian films and foreign films. Due to the nationalization of the film industry by Nasser’s regime, massive film productions became possible. The nationalization created space for both the big directors and the new talents in the film industry. The public sector was able to produce films that were not only nationally recognized but also internationally. The films might not have made a lot of money but they have stood the test of time. It is in these decades that Egypt became a reliable source and exporter of films in the region.
After 1970, denationalization of the film industry started and these marked the end of the ‘Golden era of the Egyptian Cinema’. This period was marked with profit-driven films produced solely for commercial purposes. This is an era that the government took total control of the film industry by favoring censorship. Darwish argues that the government had to ensure that the scripts are checked for it to be sure that there was nothing anti-Muslim (13). This has not only made the film industry lose a lot of income but also limited the creativity and the talent in the industry.
Clearly, the Egyptian film industry has undergone many changes to be what it is today. The industry has been influenced by the leaders in place from the years of total foreign control by the colonial regime, to the nationalization years under President Nasser. The government policies have boosted the industry and have been impediments to the industry.
Darwish, Mustafa, Dream Makers on the Nile: A Portrait of Egyptian Cinema, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 1998, Pp. 12–13.print.
Schochat, E. (1983). Egypt: Cinema and Revolution. Critical Arts, 2(4), 22-32. Web. 02/03/2015. http://archive.lib.msu.edu/DMC/African%20Journals/pdfs/Critical%20Arts/cajv2n4/caj002004005.pdf
Tabishat, Mohammed. “Society In Cinema: Anticipating The Revolution In Egyptian Fiction And Movies.” Social Research 2 (2012): 377. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 02/03/2015. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=3f7e5617-10a7-47d9-83f1-abb251238289%40sessionmgr4005&vid=0&hid=4111