Independent film movement takes root in Cairo challenging film and TV industry’s old guard. 

A band of some 100 independent Egyptian producers and directors is set to launch a breakaway union for filmmakers next week, challenging the existing Egypt Cinema Professions Syndicate which has represented the industry since 1955.

The move is being spearheaded by director-producer Hala Lotfy - who won best director from the Arab world at the Abu Dhabi film festival in October for her feature Coming Forth By Day - and Tamer El Said of Zero Productions.

“The problem with the existing syndicate is that it represents everyone – the company bosses as well as the workers so whenever there is a dispute over conditions or wages the same body is representing both sides,” said Lotfy.

“The new body will attempt to change the existing system. We’re against the star system, for example, so we state an actor’s salary cannot exceed 50% of the budget. Our regulations also cover pay and working hours,” she added.

The new syndicate also wants to challenge Egypt’s strict cinema censorship laws banning religion or sex-related subjects.

The launch of the syndicate comes hot on the heels of a boycott of the Cairo film festival by a number of film-makers protesting the re-appointment of the event’s old guard Ezzat Abou-Ouf and Soheir Abdel Kader at the head of the event.

Both actions are among a string of initiatives from a new generation of Egyptian filmmakers challenging the mainstream film industry in post-revolution Egypt.

Lotfy is a founding member of the Cairo-based collective Hassala Productions grouping half a dozen young film-makers producing micro-budget fare. The collective is currently developing eight new films.

The most advanced projects include Mohamed Rashad’s tale Little Eagles, which is being presented in the Dubai Film Connection project market; recent Berlinale Talent Campus attendee Libyan-Egyptian Abdullah Al-ghaly’s documentary Cairo – Ar-rehebat exploring his double nationality and Nadine Salib’s The Mother of the Unborn about two young women’s struggles to conceive which is shooting in Upper Egypt.

Rashad was Lotfy’s assistant director on Coming Forth By Day. His debut documentary feature follows two generations of political activists in the same family, comparing the experience of political militants of the 1960s and 1970s with that of their children participating n the Egyptian revolution some 40 years later.

“Mohamed was devoted to Coming Forth By Day three years. He stood by me for the whole period and now it’s time for us to help him get his documentary made,” commented Lotfy.

In addition to setting up the union, Hassala Productions and sister collective Zero Productions are also examining ways to get their works onto the big screen in Egypt’s monopolistic distribution market.

Hassala Productions has recently become a member of the European Union-backed Middle East distributors network MEDIS, officially launched at the Dubai International Film Festival earlier in the week, and Zero Productions is due to open an alternative film centre, the Cimatheque, in Cairo next April, aimed at offering a space and screening facilities for Egypt’s nascent independent film movement.