ZAWYA helps upcoming Egyptian and Arab filmmakers get their work on screen
By Deena Refai
After putting on the latest edition of the Panorama of the European Film a few months back, Misr International Films (MIF) is launching an ambitious new artistic endeavor: a series of art-house cinema screens across Egypt. Named ZAWYA (Arabic for “Angle”), the initiative aims to utilize film theaters by screening an alternate assortment of mainly independent films from Arab, European and several other countries to support and endorse the work of upcoming filmmakers, especially that of Arabs and Egyptians. Masterminded by Marianne Khoury, the director, producer and founder of the Panorama of the European Film, ZAWYA will also provide a well-rounded program that will include special events, retrospectives, film discussions and master classes throughout the current year.
ZAWYA kicked off on March 12 with a screening of Wadjda at Downtown’s newly renovated Cinema Odeon after which we sat down with Menna El Laithy, MIF’s Communications Manager, to discuss how a team of dedicated youth are helping to realize Khoury’s vision.
So what exactly is ZAWYA?
ZAWYA is a series of art-house cinema screens that present alternative cinema films to the Egyptian audience. In Arabic, we say, “It’s a cinema for films that do not show in cinemas.” The program will include films from Egypt, the Arab region, Europe and all over the world. We want to focus on award-winning films and independent cinema. ZAWYA wants to focus on independent filmmakers, encourage them and give them the space and support they need to present their films. ZAWYA’s program will also include retrospectives, discussions between the filmmakers and the audience, and master classes as well.
What drove MIF to launch an initiative like ZAWYA?
With the success of the annual Panorama of the European Film, people started demanding a permanent space that can screen these types of films and have these types of events (retrospectives, European films, independent films and discussions) throughout the year. The idea has been in director and producer Marianne Khoury’s mind for a long time. As she always says, “I was born thinking about ZAWYA.”
The concept of art-house cinema may appear a bit foreign to the Egyptian audience, not to mention that this kind of film genre has been struggling commercially in Egypt. How can ZAWYA defy and overturn this?
There is a rising demand for this type of cinema in Egypt. We believe that people are changing and that their tastes are changing as well. Through ZAWYA we aim to revive Egypt’s long-lost cinematic culture. We hope that like the audience of the Panorama of the European Films kept growing through the years, the same will happen with ZAWYA.
How can an initiative like ZAWYA serve as an arena for upcoming young Arab and Egyptian filmmakers, and above all the independent film industry?
One of the main reasons why we have a huge passion for ZAWYA is [that we can] create a new space for independent filmmakers, a space where they don’t have to worry that their films will be removed if the manager of the cinema is not satisfied with the financial outcome. We want to support this type of cinema and this type of arts, to grow and to develop as much as possible in Egypt. Apart from the team, Misr International Films in and of itself supports independent arts and independent filmmakers by trying to create chances for them to realize their work and make it real – the company’s vision along with the passion of the young team that works under the supervision of Marianne Khoury, one of the main supporters of independent artists and cinema, hopes to spread ZAWYA across the country to bring to the independent film industry an “independent film screen” that mainly focuses on the artistic value rather than the financial one that has unfortunately been leading the industry for decades now.
During the recent Panorama, a new concept was introduced under the title of “Education and Cinema” with the sole purpose of familiarizing students with international and independent cinema. ZAWYA will also attempt to serve as a cultural bridge between students and the world of international art-house cinema. Which approach will it take?
Through “Education and Cinema,” we want the students to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills by taking part in debates after the screening of the films. We want to promote the idea of learning through “film and visual material,” because with technology developing we believe that the learning tools have to develop as well. In addition to the development of educational tools, the children will also learn about different cultures by experiencing internationally acclaimed films that have not been part of the film market in Egypt. ZAWYA’s “Education and Cinema” program is an extension of the Panorama’s “Education and Cinema.” The only difference is that it will operate throughout the year.
How does the team behind ZAWYA envision the project in the long run?
We hope that ZAWYA will grow to become one of the most important art projects in Egypt. Although we are starting in downtown Cairo, we hope to spread across Egypt and not only the big cities.