With much of the cinema industry moving to the small screen, there has never been a more dire need for funding. A much talked about but poorly understood issue, obtaining funding from outside of Egypt is something most filmmakers see as an opportunity. To this end, the Luxor Film Festival for European and Egyptian films hosted a symposium to discuss co-production between Europe and the southern Mediterranean on Friday, 24 January, moderated by French expert Catherine Buresi.
The symposium, titled “Co-production with Europe: How does it work, what can you expect”, was attended by many filmmakers including Hala Lotfy and Mohamed Khan as well as several scriptwriters and producers. After the European guests finished presenting the topic, they quickly found themselves under attack from the audience, and despite the befitting topic within a festival that aims to promote cooperation between the two regions, cooperation was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Buresi is based in Brussels with Euromed Audiovisual III, which has commissioned a new study that has not yet been published on co-production with South Mediterranean countries. The author of the study, French producer Lucas Rosant, who is also manager of the Dubai Film connection, said 339 co-productions took place between 2006 and 2013, and that for Egypt, 33% of co-production came from France while 7% came from Germany.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the title of the symposium, audience members were very sceptical with the information that had been presented and when Mohamed Khan asked an early question by saying, “I do not mean to be cynical, but tell us in simple words, what can you do for us?” This set the mood for the rest of the session, which took on an unfortunate accusatory tone.
One scriptwriter complained that Europeans forced Egyptians to “speak their language” and that despite his knowledge of English, he would insist on speaking Arabic only because he “respected our language”. His antagonistic behaviour was made worse when he compared the guests to Catherine Ashton, indicating that they ”talked a lot without taking any action”.
Buresi said she resented the comparison because it made the issue political,pointing out that she was also being forced to speak in a language other than her own.
Another filmmaker said it was humiliating for filmmakers in Egypt to go from door to door looking for funding for their ideas while Khan raised the issue of regulations of co-production in Europe which require a local co-producer, who in some cases, contributed little yet took as much as 10% commission.
Buresi and the rest of the panel handled the situation with honesty and were upfront with what Egyptian filmmakers could expect from Europe, pointing out that a co-production was a partnership, and not a grant. Despite her attempts to ameliorate the situation, the issue obviously remains sensitive with some filmmakers who have been rejected multiple times for funding, making it extremely difficult for the symposium to act as the start of a real dialogue.
Still, despite ending on an awkward note, the reaction of the audience may serve to show how this issue should be approached in the future, and perhaps then we will see the real and tangible exchange the festival aims for.