After abruptly closing down last year, Cinemania – Egypt’s premier art-house film institute – is back with more movies, a diverse program and a host of stars and filmmakers.
Starting today, Cinemania, in cooperation with Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia and the Swiss Films Organization, presents the Swiss Film Week; a week-long festival held at Galaxy cinema in Manial, featuring a wide range of full-length features, documentaries and animation.
The road for Cinemania, the first Egyptian art-house commercial film theater in Egypt, wasn’t as smooth as some optimists initially assumed. After kicking off with a solid start last May, Cinemania quickly lost steam as attendance dwindled each week. The top quality of the mostly European films screened for nearly four month didn’t sway the hibernating art-house film lovers to frequent CityStars, the hub of Cairo’s consumerism where the theater was located.
“The setup was just not right, Marianne Khoury, founder of Cinemania and head of production of Misr International Films, told Daily News Egypt.
“I mean, in the case of CityStars, you’re interacting in a very commercial setup and that’s why it didn’t work out. Many of art-house film fans didn’t want to go all the way to CityStars. It became very difficult to sustain it.
The dismantling of Cinemania didn’t dishearten Khoury from resurrecting her passion project, albeit in a different, more flexible setting.
“Instead of restricting Cinemania to one place, I decided to reinitiate it in the form of a festival that can be held anywhere, anytime, as long the screening place has the right technical setup; and instead of screening one film every week, the festival would present several films screened in the same one week duration.
The idea for the Swiss Film Week was not preplanned.
“I was approached by the Swiss Films Organization when I was in Zurich last year and I thought it was a great idea because people in Egypt are hardly familiar with Swiss films. It’s necessary to introduce new cinemas in Egypt that don’t have a place among the dominating mainstream films.
Switzerland has recently emerged as one of Europe’s most budding film industries. In 2006, Swiss films accounted for the 10 percent of market share, an all-time high in a country dominated by Hollywood blockbusters.
Although market share of Swiss films decreased in the following years, plunging to 4 percent last year, audiences’ interest in Swiss films is higher than ever. Fourteen titles were released last year attracting over 10,000 viewers each.
Audience figures for domestic films are estimated at 400,000 in a nation of seven million.
The Swiss Film Week opens at 4 pm with the hit comedy “Late Bloomers, a gentle comedy about an 80-something widow who turns her husband’s village grocery into a lingerie boutique. The film accounted for 30 percent of the Swiss feature film market in 2007, despite being a made-for-TV film.
The film’s stars Heidi Maria Glössner and Monika Niggeler will discuss the movie in a short Q&A following the screening.
At 6:30, documentary film “Telling Strings will be screened. The film charts the history of two generations of Palestinian artists: Elias Jubran, a music teacher and lute-maker from Al Jalil and his sons and daughters, some of whom lead a double life in Israel or have left the country in search for better work opportunities.
Palestinian singer Kamilya Jubran, who’s featured in the film, will give a brief song recital following the screening.
Other guests include Swiss film director Richard Dindo who will give a workshop on documentary filmmaking. In addition, Dindo will discuss in an open sessions two of his movies scheduled for screening: “Genet in Chatila, the story of French novelist, poet and playwright Jean Genet and his relation to the Palestinian revolution, and “Ernesto Che Guevara: The Memoirs of Bolivia, a filmic document of Che Guevara’s diary and an accurate account of the failed attempt to wage a revolution in Bolivia.
Other high-profile speakers set to participate in the festival include Egyptian filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah and Ibrahim El-Batout.
Among the other highlights of the festival are major hit “Vitus, a touching drama about a withdrawn piano prodigy learning to open up to the world with the help of his grandfather and “My Name’s Eugen, a Jean-Pierre Jeunet-like comic fantasy about four kids who leave their homes for an adventure around Switzerland, searching for the legendary treasure of Titicaca Lake.
Next up for Cinemania is the Belgium Film Week, planned for May and a possible European Film Week later this year.
Despite the failure of Cinemania first time around, Khoury seems optimistic.
“We’ve targeted different organizations that might be interested in these kinds of films, did a good campaign throughout Cairo and offered students, journalists and clubs’ members discounted rates.
“I hope people will come because we’re presenting plenty of attractions and, most importantly, the movies are really good. If the Swiss Film Week does succeed, there will be more of these in the future, hopefully.