Egyptian filmmaker Tamer El Said of Zero Production and The Kite Runner star and filmmaker Khalid Abdalla spearhead creation of Cimatheque theatre.

Egypt is set to get its first independent, art-house screen with the opening of the Cimatheque in downtown Cairo early next year.

“In Egyptian slang, cima means cinema,” says the new venue’s Iraqi-French coordinator Hana Al Bayaty, explaining the name.

Egyptian filmmaker Tamer El Said of Zero Production and The Kite Runner star and filmmaker Khalid Abdalla are spearheading the project.

The aim is to offer an alternative screening space to Egypt’s heavily censored, mainstream theatres. At present, it is difficult for independent filmmakers to show their work theatrically.

The new theatre is situated in the same building as Zero Production and the Mosireen Collective, the influential civic journalism initiative, Abdalla helped set-up.

Although the 100-seat space - created by knocking two apartments together — is still under construction and not scheduled to officially open until next May, it has been operating on a makeshift basis for months.

‘We’re not open but we’re open,” says Al Bayati. “We’re under renovation but we decided to use the space anyway… despite the conditions not being very comfortable the space is systematically packed…  after the revolution, there is a thirst and eagerness to see alternative films. They have a critical view but the openness of a virgin mind… it’s beautiful.”

Over the summer, Al Bayati organised a programme of experimental works including a series of Super 8 films to come out of a Cairo workshop revolving shooting on film called Analogue Zone.

“We also showed films from independent labs in Europe such as LaborBerlin, Greek LabA and in London,” she added.

Al Bayati also opened up the programme to the audience over Ramadan, running July to August this year, for a season of screenings entitled Ramadan Movie Nights.

“It’s the tradition during Ramadan to watch films. We set up a page on our Facebook page calling on people to programme a night… we ended up with a Sudanese night, a short films night and a retrospective night. They were all very different and all bringing in a different audience,” said Al Bayati. “We’re toying with the idea of curating 60% of the programme and then leaving the other 40% to the audience.”

Alongside the screening facilities, the Cimatheque space will also feature a cafeteria, workshop space, video library and a laboratory for hand processing and digitalising super 8mm and 16mm film.

Al Bayati was speaking at the Dubai International Film Festival on the eve of a critical referendum vote in Egypt on Saturday on a draft constitution law, which has pitted Islamists against a liberal, secular and Christian opposition in deadly clashes.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” says Al Bafaty. “It’s difficult for me to comment because I am not an Egyptian citizen but I can see that my Egyptian colleagues are split between focusing on these new alternatives and hitting the street,” Al Bayati. “The fact the situation is unstable means we can push boundaries in a way that was impossible for thirty years, but may be impossible again in the very near future.”