Cairo may be the traditional hub for the cinema industry in Egypt but an independent scene is also growing in the country’s second city of Alexandria.
The founders of this nascent indie scene are at DIFF this year with their first feature-length picture The Mice House, which is competing in the Muhr Arab Feature competition.
The film, collectively directed by Nermeen Salem, Mohamed Zedan, Mohamad El-Hadidi, Mayye Zayed, Hend Bakr and Ahmed Magdy Morsy, was co-produced by Alexandria-based production companies Fig Leaf Studios and Rufy’s. It consists of six intertwining stories about Alexandria residents facing up to a personal fear.
Fig Leaf Studios founder Mark Lotfy explains the indie hub is the direct result of a series of workshops held by the Jesuits Cultural Centre from 2005 to 2012.
“The Alex scene has grown-up around the 20 or so filmmakers who attended the workshops… we collaborate on all of our projects,” says Lotfy, who was the production manager on Ahmad Abdalla’s Microphone, which was shot mainly in Alexandria.
Many of the members of the Alexandria indie film scene also worked on Ibrahim El-Batout’s Hawi, which was also shot in the city in 2010. “This experience made us realise that we were capable of producing films that could go around world,” said Lotfy.
The Mice Room was made over a three-and-a-half year period for just $3,500. The group plans to make another feature in the same mould but are working on individual projects as well.
Lotfy is also participating in the Dubai Film Connection (DFC) this year with his own project Dangerous Profiles, exploring how political activists in Egypt have created online avatars as a means to confront entities such as the deposed Mubarak regime, the US government and the Muslim Brotherhood in the virtual world.
He reveals that alongside making shorts and features, Fig Leaf Studios and Rufy’s have branched into commercials and also run several popular YouTube channels, which they monetise as a means to fund their other work.
Other Fig Leaf Studios projects include The Mice Room director Zedan’s documentary I Have A Picture, a history of Egyptian cinema through the personal story of an octogenarian who has worked as an extra since the 1940s, which is being presented at the inaugural edition of Dubai Docs.
Rufy’s is also developing Ahmed Nabil’s feature documentary The City Will Pursue You, a portrait of Alexandria, and a bio-doc about the Egyptian actor Mohsen Mohieddin, who abandoned acting for 20 years for religious reasons but has recently returned to the film industry.
It is also working on two feature projects by The Mice Room directors: Salem’s On The Road and Magdy Morsy’s Kitsch.