Screenshot of official trailer of Sheikh Jackson movie.
CAIRO – 28 November 2018: As the US initiative Global Media Makers celebrates its third year in Cairo, the program managers highlighted the ‘inspiring and unique’ projects pitched by Egyptian alumni.
A total of 12 Egyptian filmmakers have enrolled in the US cultural exchange program Global Media Makers (GMM) since its launch in 2016, according to the program directors during a summit held on Tuesday, Nov. 27.
Journalists and GMM directors talk filmmaking industry in Egypt - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today
The GMM is owned by the Film Independent non- profit organization in the US, which supports filmmakers by offering them education and workshops that help them develop their projects and techniques to build audience for the types of films they are creating.
“My first exposure to the Egyptian filmmaking was through Global Media Makers, and I was struck with how similar it is to the United States in many ways, given the struggle of independent filmmakers in financing, and figuring out ways to do a movie with little industry support,” Josh Welsh, the president of Film Independent, told Egypt Today.
Josh Welsh, the president of Film Independent - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today
Welsh added, “Some of the Egyptian filmmakers who we got to see in the GMM program are very tenacious, familiar and inspiring.”
Supported by the US State Department, the GMM program has served 46 filmmakers from Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“We are serving in nine countries, but the competition in Egypt is quite strong because there are great filmmakers, so we end up taking many filmmakers coming from Egypt,” said Maria Raquel Bozzi, senior director of education programs for Film Independent.
This comes as part of the Cairo Industry Days event currently held in coordination with the US Embassy, during which Egyptian filmmakers who have been part of the program reconnect with their mentors and peers, as well as explore future collaboration.
Regarding the criteria upon which the GMM projects are selected, Bozzi explained that “there have to be stories that we haven’t heard about before, also filmmakers should tell me something about the environment they live in that we have not heard about, and the project has to be in a good shape that can be shared with mentors.”
To date, seven GMM projects have been produced, including Amr Salama’s "Sheik Jackson", which was Egypt’s official submission for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
One of the mentors who worked on "Sheikh Jackson" project is Laura Kim, who said “it is more important for us to hear different voices. It’s really imperative for us to communicate more through arts in a language that we all can understand.”
Effie Brown (L) and Laura Kim (R), mentors with GMM - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today
While Bozzi found that the struggle and tension were the main elements that drew the company to "Sheikh Jackson", rendering it a successful experience. “Someone having to navigate all of these elements creates great drama, the featuring of Michael Jackson was even better; however, it was not the element that made the film successful, but rather the tension featured in the film,” she told Egypt Today.
Finding common drama lines in Egyptian films, US filmmakers pointed out that “the sense of urgency” and “the love-hate relationship with Cairo’s beauty and chaos” are the most repeated themes in many Egyptian films received by GMM.
Mentor Effie Brown, a film and TV producer, also said that the Egyptian films they mentored “were special for their universality and region-specifics that enable them to travel.”
“Egyptian filmmakers can bring to the US a greater understanding and a cultural bridge. The US has a lot of preconceived notions about the Arab world that are completely wrong, and combating this comes through films, the language we all understand,” Brown added.
Len Amato, the president of HBO films - Photo by Ahmed Maarouf/Egypt Today
Len Amato, the president of HBO films, who is also part of the GMM program, explained that what makes a film successful and gain international reach is the storytelling and the execution, saying that breaking rules helps penetrate the global market.