SEMAT caters to the needs of independent filmmakers
Over the last decade Egypt’s independent filmmaking industry has been on the rise. With the establishment of the first independent Egyptian production and distribution company, SEMAT, it has begun to take a more organized and hence influential shape.
SEMAT was established in 2001 after a group of independent filmmakers, dissatisfied with the current situation of mainstream film production, decided to create their own alternative production company.
“We didn’t want to have to accept the rules set by the commercial movie market, we wanted to set our own rules and produce movies that deserve to be given a chance, explained Hala Galal, one of the SEMAT founders and scriptwriter.
The obstacles facing independent films have always been related to funds and distribution. However, according to Galal, both points are no longer much of a problem, thanks to modern technology.
“Modern technology and digital cameras have made it possible for a movie to be made with very little money, so that even if you are poor you can literally borrow a camera and make your own movie. Then it can be uploaded on the Internet and in this way be available for all people to see, Galal commented.
Though this might sound like a rather unorthodox means of distribution, it fits in with the aim of most independent filmmakers. “Though these methods may not bring the filmmaker any money, if what [she or] he ultimately seeks is self-expression, then making a movie is not impossible, added Galal.
The difference between the conditions of independent movies in Egypt in the ’90s as compared to today is huge. This change has been brought about by many factors. First, satellite channels have made people aware of what is happening in the world outside Egypt, thus raising their level of awareness. And second, digital cameras have provided everyone with the capability to make their own movies and in this way made them realize that movies are not only what one sees in the cinema.
“The fact that very famous and influential directors like Yusri Nasrallah and Mohamed Khan have made their own independent films in the last couple of years has also given the independent movie industry more legitimacy, Galal pointed out.
Additionally, many television channels like Showtime’s Al-Shasha and Al-Jazeera are more ready than ever to buy the rights to broadcast independent movies, especially documentaries.
Last but not least is the fact that three years ago the National Cinema Festival allowed video movies to participate for the first time. “The winning movie that year was “Men Be’id (From a Distance), a movie directed by Ahmad Abu Zeid and produced by us, Galal said, adding, “Now we have El-Sawy Documentary Film Festival and a lot of places have begun showing these movies, like Al-Mawred, which proves that more people are becoming interested in watching this type of movie. So things are definitely changing.
The main objective the SEMAT founders have set for themselves, apart from helping produce independent movies, is to document the works of independent filmmakers. “Since we felt that these single efforts are great but are soon forgotten and will definitely disappear if not collected, we decided to create an atmosphere suitable for their survival, Galal said.
To do so, a number of projects have been initiated. The first of which is the non-periodical magazine, Nazra. “Its main role is to advertise these independent activities that have been ignored by other magazines till recently, Galal said.
“Documenting the works of independent filmmakers on the pages of the magazine and in the CDs sold with it was important for us because it was the means by which to prove that we exist, she added.
There are also annual workshops both for children and adults wishing to enter the field.
“We felt that the existence of only one cinema institute in a big country like Egypt is not enough, that is why we started the workshops; to teach more people about filmmaking. Another reason is that we wanted to change all the traditional forms currently existing in the filmmaking industry, Galal said, pointing out that their philosophy that there should be no age limit to learning about filmmaking has prompted them to begin similar workshops for children.
Additionally, beginning last year, SEMAT has begun to host the Caravan of the Euro-Arab Cinema, a project funded by the EU, which is a series of festivals taking place in different Egyptian, Lebanese and Jordanian cities. “It is a great project that gives us the chance to show good movies whether Arabic or European, Galal said.
Though SEMAT members have been doing all they can to help out independent filmmakers, they believe that they cannot afford to do enough. “There are a lot of people who want to make or watch movies that are different from the ones we see in the cinema so there should be hundreds of companies like us. We are not enough, Galal said.
For more information about SEMAT check out their Web site at http://www.sematcairo.com/.