A game-changing new partnership between a production house in Dubai and another in Cairo has wrapped up its first big-budget film shoot. Luxor, a film by director Zeina Durra, which stars British actress Andrea Riseborough and French-Lebanese actor Karim Saleh, has now completed filming in Egypt.
The movie is the first to be made as part of a new collaboration between Dubai's Front Row Filmed Entertainment and Cairo's Film Clinic, which promises to change the dynamics of local film production and distribution across the Mena region. Dubai distributors Gianluca Chakra and Hisham Al Ghanim are co-producing the movie under their Front Row banner, alongside Mohamed Hefzy of Film Clinic, who in February was named Arab Personality of the Year by the Arab Cinema Center. Their production companies will also work together to distribute the film across the Mena region.
"We firmly believe that blending film distribution with film production is the way forward in this ever-changing landscape," says Chakra, managing director of Front Row. "Hefzy is a friend and a professional, who believes in our vision."
An international affair
Luxor is the second film by NYU Film School graduate Durra, after her post-9/11 satire about Arabs in America, The Imperialists are Still Alive! (2010), which was given its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010.
Her new film tells the story of a British aid worker stationed at the Jordan-Syria border, who heads to the ancient city of Luxor for a break. There, she rekindles a relationship with an archaeologist.
In addition to Birdman and The Battle of the Sexes actress Riseborough, and Transparent actor Saleh – who also appeared in The Imperialists are Still Alive! – the cast includes award-winning Egyptian actress Sherine Reda (Photocopy) and US actor Michael Landes (Final Destination 2). London-born Durra says her sophomore film "is an epic story about a woman who tries to make sense of the present by going back to the past".
A future collaboration
The Dubai-Cairo production partnership has also announced its next collaboration: "Luxor will be followed by the Arabic-language remake of the Italian smash hit Perfect Strangers," Chakra says.
Paolo Genovese's film made $16 million (Dh59m) in Italy after it was released in 2016, and it has been remade in countries including France, Mexico, South Korea, China, Hungary and Spain. It tells the story of seven long-time friends who attend a dinner party, where they agree to put their mobile phones on the table and reveal every text message or phone call they receive that evening, to prove they have nothing to hide. The Middle Eastern remake is scheduled to go into production later this year.
Deals that combine production and distribution are popular in Europe, where government subsidies and funds are made more readily available for films that demonstrate they are likely to be distributed in cinemas, where they will be seen by a wider audience. Tax incentives also come into play for films released in cinemas.
From films to television
By guaranteeing a cinema distribution deal when a film is financed, Front Row and Film Clinic hope the move will also facilitate television deals. Traditionally, television companies around the globe pay more for films that have enjoyed a good festival run or have been released in cinemas, as the films will be more recognisable to audiences. With television money coming into film at an earlier stage, it is hoped more local projects will be made, while also boosting the confidence of financiers and filmmakers alike in the challenging independent film sector in the Mena region.
"I am thrilled that Luxor marks the beginning of our creative collaboration with Front Row," says Hefzy, a screenwriter and producer, whose recent credits include Cannes selections Clash (2016) and Yomeddine (2018). "We have always considered Front Row a leading distributor in the region, but now they are effectively co-production partners on this and other projects."
Front Row began business in 2003, and has distributed movies including Palme d'Or winner I, Daniel Blake (2016) and Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? (2011) in the region. Other production and distribution companies across the region will be watching with keen interest to see whether a film that tells a dramatic story in the Middle East – without revolving around war or extremism – can flourish in the regional and international markets. If Luxor succeeds, it could become an attractive model for feature film production in the region.
Chakra says he is excited about the prospects for Durra's new film. "Luxor is a universal film about the choices you make in life and its future repercussions," he says. "However, it is also a film about rebirth, and ultimately, redemption, reflecting the ethos of the ancient Egyptian city. It's a film that can and will export the Mena culture and its history through a universal and contemporary story into the West."