Dubai-based indie film distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment is taking its first steps into film production as part of a collaboration with Beirut-based fellow distributor Empire International, Kuwait National Cinema Company, and Mohamed Hefzy's Egyptian production powerhouse Film Clinic, which produced this year's Cannes Palme d'Or contender Yommedine.
The quartet have signed a deal with Italian producer Medusa Films to deliver an Arabic language remake of the 2016 Italian smash hit Perfetti Sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers), a global success that took $20m (Dh73.4m) at the Italian box office and a further $11m worldwide.
The popular film has already been remade in a $25m-grossing Spanish version, Greek and Turkish, while a French version Le Jeu, opened at number two, behind Venom at the French box office last weekend. The Weinstein Company had previously acquired rights to an English-language remake, although due to well-publicised recent events in Hollywood that is currently stalled.
The film tells the story of a group of friends who decide to play a game whereby they all agree to leave their phones on the table over dinner, reading all of each other's messages and revealing that each of them has a number of very different lives going on.
The Arabic version is set to feature a mix of Egyptian and Lebanese cast. Front Row MD Gianluca Chakra, who negotiated the deal with Medusa, notes that initially he had hoped to feature a pan-Arabian cast, including an Emirati dinner guest, but logistics and dialect concerns had led to settling on the Lebanese/Egyptian mix.
Asked why Front Row has decided to venture into production now, after many years as a successful distributor, Chakra said: "We just felt, and we'd noticed as a distributor, that we were going through a particularly poor period for scripts in the Arabic language currently. We're not necessarily in a position right now to write something new ourselves, although that's something we'd like to look at in future, so we decided to look for a really solid, high concept, foreign language script that we could adapt. [With Perfect Strangers] Paolo Genovese and team have delivered one of the most clever and universally adaptable scripts known to contemporary cinema, so we're extremely happy to be involved in such a proven property."
The relative cinematic simplicity of the script was also appealing to a company taking its first steps into the world of making movies, Chakra reveals: “It’s low-budget, one location, so there’s no huge outlay, it’s a fairly low-risk project, so of course that had its appeal too from practical and business point of view.”
It’s quite common in the Egyptian industry for films to be “remade” without going through such official channels, and Chakra reveals that a number of other Egyptian companies had expressed an interest in remaking the film, whether officially or unofficially. Having now put pen to paper on the deal, however, and with Hefzy’s connections within Egyptian cinematic officialdom, the film’s rights should now be safely in the hands of the new consortium.
Front Row President and KNCC General Manager Hisham Al Ghanim added: “We are also looking into more potential remake rights that could resonate well in the MENA. The aim for us is to find different business models encouraging co-productions between the Arab world bridging the different cultures, introducing new talent and eventually gaining more markets. With the right material, this can be done.”
The original film picked up several awards along the way including two David di Donatello awards for Best Picture and Best Screenplay as well as the Best Screenplay prize at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival in the international narrative competition section.
The Arabic version is currently in the pre-production stage, with casting and shooting announcements expected shortly. Front Row/KNCC and Empire will theatrically distribute the film in the Gulf and Levant. Film Clinic will handle its theatrical release in Egypt. Front Row will handle all post theatrical sales across the region.