The story of the Egyptian summer film season began in 1997 with the success of “Ismalia Rayeh Gai (Ismalia Back and Forth). For more than a decade, summer has remained the most lucrative season for Egyptian films, with more than one-third of annual productions released during June, July and August.
The following summers witnessed the rise and fall of many stars such as the late Alaa Wali El Din, Mohamed Heneidy and Mohamed Saad. Competition grew more intense the past couple of years with escalating production and marketing costs, in addition to the flood of aspiring young stars appearing on screen every year.
This summer though has proven to be different and more problematic. With thanaweya amma (national secondary school certificate) exams wrapping up in late June and the holy month of Ramadan starting Sept. 1, the 2008 summer season has literally been shrunk down. This has producers releasing a host of big productions in a very short time span. Adding to the woes of Egyptian producers was the massive viewership of Euro 2008 in the beginning of June and this month’s Summer Olympics, also expected to steal the attention of a large chunk of the audience. “This season is a bit different than any other which made us release movies earlier than usual, said Abdel Gileel Hassan, spokesperson of Misr Al-Arabeya Production and Distribution Company. “[That’s why] we kicked-off the season with ‘El Ghaba’ (The Jungle), which was released towards the end of May.
The current average grosses of what can be branded a blockbuster are between LE 15 million to LE 20 million. Summer has primarily been the safest season to reach the LE 15 million plus mark.
Up until this week, none of the 13 films released this season have succeeded in grossing more than LE 13 million. Apart from Ahmed Helmy’s latest hit “Asef Ala El-Ezaag and the Adel Imam/Omar Sharif starring “Hassan and Morkos, no other film is expected to reach the LE 15 million mark. Last year, five films had effortlessly topped this number by mid-August.
“The revenues this season are less than previous seasons, and around 15 to 20 percent less than last season. Still, we can’t draw any conclusions now as we are still in the middle. As Misr Al-Arabeya our movies are doing great and getting us high revenues, said Hassan.
The revenues generated by Misr Al-Arabeya’s films as of July 15 are: “Cabaret, LE 9 million; “El-Rayes Omar Harb, LE 9.2 million; and “Captain Hima, LE 9.5 million.
As for the Oscar/El Nasr/Massa, “Hassan & Morkos has reigned supreme with LE 10.3 million, followed by “Asef which grossed LE 6.7 million in its first week, “Masgoon Transit with LE 7.6 million and “Nems Bond with LE 5.6 million.
“These revenues are relatively good and satisfying for us as a distribution company if we compare it with other movies this season, but we can’t compare it with any other season, said Hassan.
“We still have Mohammed Saad who is a box office champ and we have really high expectations for him. We are predicting Ahmed Mekky’s movie to be the surprise hit of the season, he added.
The biggest box office flop of the season is Good News Productions’ “Baby Doll Night. The star-studded film, with a budget of LE 40 million, managed to gross a scanty LE 6 million so far. On the other hand, a source inside Good News Productions told Daily News Egypt “you are talking about the revenues of the movie inside Egypt only. The film has travelled all over the world and even went to the Cannes Film Festival. What more could we ask for?
Esteemed film critic Rafiq El-Sabban believes that regardless of its failure at the box office and the scathing reviews it has received, the film can’t be written off as a failure. “Whether it’s good or bad, you can’t deny that the film created a buzz, he said.
The sole winner this season, according to critics, is the audience. The short season forced producers to release exceptional films, distinctive enough to face the fierce competition.
“This summer season we’ve seen many surprises, El-Sabban said. “First, there are two great movies in theaters now: ‘Hassan & Morkos’ and ‘Asef Ala El-Ezaag,’ both of which are very high quality in terms of drama, plot, acting, directing – everything.
Sabban also noted that infamous producer Ahmed Sobky, notorious for making some of the worst reviewed films of the past decade, has surprised critics and audiences alike with his acclaimed production “Cabaret.
“Even Sobky had two great productions this season, ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Helm El Omr’ (Dream of a Lifetime), said El-Sabban.
Some observers claim the clutter of movies this season is caused by the rivalry between the Misr Al-Arabeya and Oscar/Al-Nasr/Al-Massa, the two conglomerates controlling movie distribution in Egypt.
But Hassan is refuting this claim. “Just because we are two companies in the market doesn’t mean we are rivals, he explained. “Each company shows its movies in the theatres it owns and both companies are satisfied with this current state. There aren’t any losses so if no one is losing and no producer is hurt by our competition, then at the end of the day it is in the benefit of the film industry and our culture.
“We are all members of the Federation of the Egyptian Cinema Industry where we communicate and we meet before any season starts and agree on the release dates of every movie, he added.
Hollywood blockbusters usually tend to take a back-seat during the summer season but the likes of phenomenal sensations such as “The Dark Knight and “Iron Man attracted legions of Egyptian viewers. Some observers predicted such films could steal the thunder from Egyptian productions.
Yet, because of the quota enforced on Hollywood and foreign movies that limits the number of prints to a maximum of 10, such films have rarely represented any real competition for Egyptian movies, which debut at an average of 50 theaters for medium-production films and 100 for major productions like “Hassan & Morkos.
“Everyone in the world is rushing to release ‘The Dark Knight,’ but I’m telling the sub-distributor to leave me alone because I have no space, said Gaby Khoury, who operates 45 screens, in a news report. Because of the relatively short length of the season, no new films will be released during Eid El-Fitr, where leftovers of the summer season are usually dumped.
“We are not postponing any movies until Eid El-Fitr because the movies that will be released at the end of the season (“Boshkash and “H-Dabbour ) will be shown throughout Ramadan and Eid, said Hassan.