Zawya is a single-screen cinema round the back of downtown Cairo’s Odeon Cinema.
The cinema has a separate entrance and a newly refurbished lobby of its own. The movie theater itself is small and steep, seating about 120 people.
It will show a selection of local, regional and international films that are not typically picked up by Egyptian cinemas, which mainly screen fairly mainstream Egyptian films and lightly censored Hollywood blockbusters.
Zawya will continue to exist permanently in the Odeon, showing one film at a time for at least a week-long run. But there are also plans to expand it to other venues around Cairo and nationwide, perhaps at some point involving a move toward the reactivation of some of Egypt’s many old beautiful cinemas.
Things are being planned as they go, and will move forward depending on responses. It is certain the Saudi-German production “Wadjda” (2012) will be showing everyday this week, starting today, at 1, 3, 6 and 9 pm, and at midnight on weekends, for the very reasonable price of LE15 for the first daily screening and LE20 for the subsequent ones.
Programming for future weeks has not yet been announced, although the French drama “The Past” (2013), by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, was mentioned at the launch on March 12, as well as Moroccan director Nour Eddine Lakhmari’s noir thriller “Zero” (2012).
Youssef Shazli, who is in charge of Zawya’s programming alongside filmmaker Alia Ayman and Stephanie Sicard, told Mada Masr that a weekly program will be announced soon, presumably on Zawya’s Facebook page.
Zawya at the Odeon will also be hosting most of the film activities of D-CAF, starting in the last week of March. Curated by Belgian event coordinator Hervé Le Phuez, the program includes short and feature-length European films.
Conceived of by Marianne Khoury, Zawya is run by Misr International Films (MIF), an organization founded by Youssef Chahine and now run by his descendants, with Khoury at the helm. MIF initiates and runs many film-related activities, as well as acting as a production company. It organizes the Panorama of European Film, a yearly festival bringing often very well chosen, uncut foreign films to Cairo.
Panorama and Zawya share members of the same young staff and will feed off of and shape each other.
In keeping with MIF’s other activities, there will be an emphasis on education, with master classes and discussion with filmmakers also on the program, though specifics are also yet to be announced.
“We will be holding special morning screenings as of now in other venues for schools, as part of our Education and Cinema program,” Shazli told Mada Masr. These venues are two of the three used in the 2013 Panorama festival: Stars Cinema in Heliopolis and Plaza Cinemas in Sheikh Zayed.
After getting hold of the rights to show the selected films, Zawya will then often have to arrange Arabic subtitling, which it outsources.
Zawya’s main funder is Egypt’s Commercial International Bank (CIB), and it is also supported by Egyptian film production company New Century (Dollar Film), uniFrance Films and Wallonie Bruxelles Images, and elcinema.com.
Zawya is an exciting part of a promising moment for alternative cinema in Egypt. There are increasing numbers of film festivals, including the Luxor African Film Festival, which starts this week. The Cairo International Film Festival is undergoing much-needed change, and the long-awaited alternative film center Cimatheque, which has just started publishing this blog so the public can keep up-to-date with its progress, will be launching soon.
“We have been in touch with Cimatheque for more than a year now,” said Shazli, who works on fundraising, budgeting and building new partnerships with local and international organizations as well as programming. “They are very excited about our project as we are about theirs, and we’ve talked a lot about exploring potential areas for collaboration.”
Meanwhile, go and see Haifaa al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” if you haven’t already. It’s not only a good chance to see Zawya’s first venue, it’s also a really engaging film that, while crammed rather full of plot devices that illustrate the problems women face in Saudi Arabia, makes the most of and even transcends its edifying role due to the charisma and beautiful acting of its leads, and some brilliant moments of humor.
Zawya is at the Odeon is at 4 Abdel al-Hamid Said Street, off Talaat Harb Street.