Streaming-first release of Yousra and Asser Yassin's new film 'Saheb Al Maqam' is 'historic moment' for Arab cinema

The move could start a new trend in the distribution of Arabic films, stars say

'The Enshrined Saint' (Saheb El Makam). Courtesy MBC
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Egyptian star Asser Yassin had no idea that his latest film Saheb Al Maqam (The Enshrined Saint) would eventually debut on a streaming platform, skipping a theatrical release altogether. The decision might have come as a result of constraints posed by the coronavirus pandemic, but the star says that the move might mark a transformative moment in how Arabic films are distributed, and possibly will "inspire others to do the same."

Asser Yassin in 'Saheb Al Maqam' which is streaming on Shahid. MBC

“We always thought the film would first be released in the cinema,” he said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, July 29, hosted by MBC ahead of the film’s release. “But I’m glad it’s debuting on Shahid first. The move might mark a precedent and start a trend.”

The film – which also features Egyptian superstar Yousra – was unveiled today, July 30, on MBC’s streaming platform, Shahid VIP, to coincide with the first day of Eid Al Adha.

Saheb Al Maqam tells the story of a young businessman (Yassin) who sees his life fall apart after a series of bad business decisions. Seeing that he is about to lose his family and possibly risk losing his future, he seeks the help of a holy woman played by Yousra.

The film marks the third collaboration between Yousra and Yassin, who have previously starred together in the film The Yacoubian Building and the television drama series Lahazat Harega. The film also marks Yousra's first feature film in nearly eight years. Her last was Game Over, a comedy released in 2012.

'Saheb El Makam' is Yousra’s first feature film in nearly eight years. MBC

Earlier this week, Yousra told Arabic media how her character was originally written to be man. However, the film’s director, Mohamed El Adl, then decided to rewrite the character to be a woman, and that’s when Yousra joined the project.

“I usually prefer to play characters that I have never portrayed before,” she said. “And so this project definitely appealed to me, as the story itself hasn’t been presented in Egyptian or Arab cinema before.

“Featuring a pre-cinema release on Shahid VIP definitely marks the beginning of a new form of film distribution in the region. I do not view it as a substitute to the cinema, but as a service that compliments it. It’s fantastic that this film is the first one to stream on Shahid VIP [pre-cinema release].”

During the virtual press conference, El Adl also echoed the same sentiment, stating that the pre-cinema release will usher a new way of thinking how to distribute films in the region, describing it as “a historic moment” for Arab cinema.

“I am very happy with this step,” he said during the event. “It opens up a new market for Egyptian films, and expands viewership potential. I’m sure the film’s pre-cinema release will encourage other directors and producers to take similar steps.

“It’s a new way of making exclusive content accessible to everyone, and I think that the public will back it. It’s also a new way for filmmakers to showcase their work, which is crucial given the current circumstances around the world.”

More pre-theatrical releases are set to launch on Shahid VIP in the coming months, including the thriller Al Hareth, which stars Ahmed El Fishawy and Yasmin Raeis.

MBC Group spokesperson Mazen Hayek said the broadcasting company is striving to keep true to its promise of making Shahid VIP compete with the world’s top streaming platforms.

“When we unveiled the all-new Shahid earlier this year at the Dubai Opera, we promised to increase our original and exclusive content to ensure we keep delivering the best of Arabic and foreign productions,” Al Hayek said at the virtual event.