Distributors throughout the MENA region face a spectacular range of challenges, including a lack of screens, curfews and soaring piracy. Melanie Goodfellow profiles the major players.

The recent period of rapid political and economic change across MENA has resulted in wildly different theatrical fortunes from territory to territory.

Saudi Arabia continues to ban movie theatres but neighbouring UAE and Qatar are witnessing a huge increase in screen numbers and multiplexes and a resulting growth in box office, which is spilling over into Jordan and Iraq.

A 16-screen multiplex, a partnership between Ibrahim Taher’s Al Taher for Cinemas, Eagle Films and Selim Ramia & Co, opened in Amman over the summer. Lebanese exhibitor and distributor Empire is planning a 14-screen venue for the Kurdish Iraqi city of Erbil.

In Egypt, total box-office grosses are down compared to last year after nightly curfews led to the cancellation of evening screenings during the Eid Al-Fitr festivities, traditionally a busy time for cinemas. Syria’s film industry is largely in exile. The Maghreb, meanwhile, is characterised by rampant piracy and a reduced theatrical circuit.

The Middle East’s major theatrical distributors are based in the three key hubs of Beirut, Cairo and Dubai. They focus on crowd-pleasing Bollywood titles, Hollywood blockbusters and Egyptian comedies, which are popular throughout the region. There is little space for either local or foreign independent cinema. However there are a growing number of initiatives aimed at promoting local and world cinema titles to MENA audiences.

Last year, a consortium of 20 distributors from around the region joined forces to form MEDIS, creating a sustainable distribution network in the region. The group met during DIFF on December 11. The key issues on its agenda were piracy, collective acquisition strategies, video-on-demand and a film-education policy to nurture future audiences.

In the UAE, meanwhile, Gulf Film is launching a new screen dedicated to European cinema at its multiplex in the Ibn Battuta Mall in January.

The Middle East’s major theatrical distributors

Misr International Films (MIF)

Based in Egypt
Distribution territories Egypt

Founded by the late legendary film-maker Youssef Chahine, MIF is one of the Middle East’s oldest film and television production companies. MIF distributes its own productions and is a partner in Allied Film Distribution, the Egyptian arm of Beirut-based Empire International, which distributes titles for Columbia Pictures and Buena Vista, and works closely with Italia Film. The company also manages 60 cinema screens in Cairo and Alexandria and runs the annual Panorama of the European Film Festival. The latest edition ran earlier this month, showcasing 40 new films including Young And Beautiful and Kon-Tiki.

Contact mif@mifegypt.com

United Motion Pictures (UMP)

Based in Egypt
Distribution territory Egypt

UMP is the sole agent and distributor for 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros in Egypt. Its subsidiary, Silver Screen, has shares in circuits in Cairo and Alexandria. Recent releases include Diana and Gravity.

Contact ump@ump.com.eg

Al Arabia Cinema

Based in Egypt
Distribution territories Egypt, pan-Arab

Cairo-based Al Arabia distributes Arabic-language and international titles and owns the 150-screen Renaissance chain of cinemas in Egypt and Jordan. Recent releases include Mohamed Moustafa’s The Thief & The Fool, Ahmad Abdalla’s Rags & Tatters and Amr Arafa’s Sameer Abu Elneel.

Contact sales@arabiacinema.com

Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC)

Based in Kuwait
Distribution territories Kuwait

The 60-year-old Kuwait National Cinema Company is the territory’s sole exhibitor, controlling 56 screens in 13 locations. It distributes films with Dubai-based Front Row Filmed Entertainment. Recent releases include The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Carrie alongside Egyptian comedies such as Kalby Dalili. Upcoming European releases include Stephen Frears’ Philomena and Vincenzo Natali’s sci-fi thriller Haunter.

Contact hisham@kncc.com

Eagle Films

Based in Lebanon
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Beirut-based Eagle Films is one of MENA’s leading distributors, operating across VoD, satellite, pay TV and theatrical. Recent acquisitions include The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, Expiration, Battle Of The Damned and Mega Spider.

Contact eaglefilms@terra.net.lb

Empire International

Based in Lebanon
Distribution territories pan-Arab

One of the oldest distributors in the Middle East, Empire International has its roots in a Levantine cinema circuit set up by George N Haddad in 1919. Today, headed by son Mario G Haddad, the company operates across the region with offices in Beirut, Dubai, Bahrain and Cairo. It owns cinemas in Lebanon and has expanded its exhibition activities into Iraqi Kurdistan with the opening of a 14-screen multiplex in Erbil. The company is the exclusive distributor of Sony Films and 20th Century Fox in the Gulf and Middle East. Recent releases include Carrie, Only God Forgives [pictured] and Emirati-set Djinn.

Contact info@empire.ae

Four Star Films

Based in Lebanon
Distribution territories pan-Arab

This Jounieh-based distribution and exhibition company operates throughout the Middle East. Owned by Hikmat Antypas, the Lebanese company has exclusive distribution deals with Universal, Paramount and Dreamworks, picks up European fare and works closely with Gulf Films. Recent acquisitions include Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The Young And Prodigious TS Spivet and Anne Fontaine’s Adore.

Contact info@4starfilms.com

Italia Films

Based in Beirut
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Founded in the 1950s to distribute Italian films into Lebanon, Beirut-based Italia Films is one of the key buyers of independent European titles for the Middle East. It has offices in Cairo, Dubai and Amman, and runs the Circuit Planete chain in Lebanon. This year’s acquisitions include Blancanieves.

Contact I.f@italiafilm.com.lb

Phoenicia Pictures International

Based in Lebanon
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Ameer Fawaz’s Beirut-based Phoenicia Pictures International buys all rights for distribution across MENA. Recent acquisitions include Blood Of Redemption, Legends Of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Cottage Country, The Forbidden Girl and Apartment 1303 3D.

Contact info@phoeniciapictures.com

Shooting Stars

Based in Dubai
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Dubai-based Shooting Stars was founded in 2004 by Lebanese industry veteran Joseph Chacra, whose family was the long-time agent for Warner Bros in Lebanon. As well as handling the release of all Warner Bros titles in the UAE and GCC region, Shooting Stars has strong links with independent producers and sales companies including Foresight, Wild Bunch, Pathé, Absurda, Independent and Bankside. The company buys through a consortium with home-entertainment distributor Viva Entertainment and TV buyer Teleview. Its eclectic slate has included The Artist, Universal Soldier 3 & 4, Cheri and The Killer Inside Me.

Contact info@shootingstarsuae.com

Jaguar Film International Distribution (JFID)

Based in Beirut, Dubai
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Samy E Khoury’s Jaguar Film International Distribution has been operating in the Middle East for 40 years. With offices in Beirut and Dubai, the company focuses on mainstream US fare such as The Last Witch Hunter, A Little Chaos, Step Up 5 and recent pick-up, 12 Years A Slave.

Contact jaguarfilm1@hotmail.com

Prime Pictures

Based in Dubai
Distribution territories pan-Arab

The theatrical and home entertainment company Prime Pictures is part of Hammad Atassi and Talaat Captan’s property and exhibition empire. The company owns the CinemaCity chain, with screens in Beirut, Amman, Damascus and Dubai and has exclusive deals with Sony, Hallmark and Icon. Recent acquisitions include Mr Morgan’s Last Love and The Philosophers. Prime is the exclusive sales agent for Paramount/Dreamworks television and VoD in the region.

Contact beirut@primepictures.com

Falcon Films

Based in Beirut
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Beirut-based production and distribution company Falcon Films, headed by Rami Sannan, specialises in arthouse titles, distributing them across multiple platforms within MENA. Recent acquisitions include The Past.

Contact info@falconfilms-lb.com

Gulf Film

Based in Dubai
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Bought by Qatar Media Services in 2012, Gulf Film is the leading distributor and exhibitor in the Gulf region. By the end of 2013 it will have released around 150 titles, and garnered about 50% of the region’s admissions this year. The company sub-distributes Paramount and Universal titles for Four Star Films in the Gulf, and is the Middle East distributor for StudioCanal, EuropaCorp, IM Global, Relativity Media and Voltage, to name but a few. In partnership with Eagle Films and Jaguar Entertainment, it also handles Lionsgate, Nu Image and Summit Entertainment titles. Its exhibition arm, Grand Cinemas, is the largest theatre chain in the Middle East with some 100 screens in the UAE and Jordan and plans to expand this to 200 by the beginning of 2015. Acquisitions at November’s AFM included Sea At War, Fathers And Daughters, Mortdecai, Back Roads, Term Life and The Outsider.

Contact elly@gulffilm.com

Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Based in Dubai
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Run by father-and-son team Michel and Gianluca Chakra, Front Row Filmed Entertainment is the go-to company for international independent fare in the Middle East. This year’s acquisitions have included Blood Ties, Cavalry, A Long Way Down and The Selfish Giant. The company also recently signed a Middle East output deal with Exclusive Media, covering its titles up to 2017.

Contact info@frontrowent.ae

Phars Film

Based in Dubai
Distribution territories pan-Arab

Dubai-based Phars Film is run by father-and-daughter team Ahmad Golchin and Mahi Golchin-Depala. The company distributes around 350 titles a year, mostly from Bollywood, Iran, the Philippines, the US independent sector and Europe across a variety of platforms. This year’s acquisitions have included Late Bloomer, Careful What You Wish For and Outpost 37.

Contact info@pharsfilm.com