Weekly spotlight on state culture: Egypt’s film industry to return to Culture Ministry

Several decisions were made by the government on Wednesday aimed at resolving various problems the Egyptian film industry has been facing for the past decade.

Within two weeks, state-owned cinemas and film studios should return to the management of the Culture Ministry, as per a decision by Culture Minister Saber Arab and Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb.

A single office at the ministry will also act as a one-stop shop for issuing permits for foreign film companies wishing to work in Egypt.

These two steps, along with several other decisions, are meant to minimize the lengthy bureaucratic procedures that currently confront production companies, and improve management of existing resources to allow better access to creative production mechanisms and increase state revenue from the arts.

The implementation of these decisions will be overseen by a special committee, with which the two ministers met on Wednesday morning. The committee includes representatives from the ministries of culture, industry, foreign trade and investment, information and antiquities, as well as the cinema industry chamber. The committee was first set up by former Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, and former Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa Eddin was also involved in its work.

The return of the state’s film-related assets, including four mega production studios and 17 movie theaters, to the Culture Ministry is long-awaited. For the past decade, though owned by the Culture Ministry, these assets have been managed by the Egyptian Company for Sound and Light, which operates under the Ministry of Investment. This has resulted in long disputes between the two ministries, as each has accused the other of mismanagement. The Ministry of Investment has repeatedly argued that filmmakers do not have the capacity to manage these assets, while the Culture Ministry has accused the former of focusing on financial investments and ignoring the cultural component of such projects by making the facilities accessible to filmmakers and the public only at very high prices.

The decision to make the Culture Ministry responsible for issuing filming permits for all Arab and foreign films in Egypt through a single office at the ministry’s National Center for Cinema is meant to attract foreign film companies, which generally opt to shoot in other North African countries, particularly Morocco, due to bureaucratic obstacles to working in Egypt. If coupled with proper security procedures, this could bring in much-needed revenue to the state and particularly the Culture Ministry, which is facing major funding cuts.

Mehleb has also asked the heads of Egypt’s governorates to allocate disused plots of land for the construction of movie theaters nationwide, as many cities and villages do not have properly equipped screening halls or cinemas. He has also requested that the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinate with other countries on combating piracy of Egyptian films, which he says has resulted in major losses for the local film industry. 

These are the first official decisions to be announced by the committee. Its work will however continue after the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. The committee is expected to work closely with the next parliament on drafting legislation to regulate and facilitate the work of filmmakers and production companies in Egypt.


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