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Egypt's Winter of Discontent seeks distributors in Europe

- After its Egyptian release, award-winning Egyptian feature sets eye on Europe

After its Egyptian release, award-winning Egyptian feature sets eye on Europe

After its release in Egypt this March, an award-winning Egyptian narrative feature shot without a script during the 2011 Egyptian revolution is now looking for distributors in Europe. The film is not only a slice of contemporary Arab history, but also a groundbreaking model of production in the Arab region.

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Egyptian independent filmmaker Ibrahim el Batout, who covered wars from Somalia to Iraq as a cameraman before turning to fiction in 2005, decided to shoot Winter of Discontent, in Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 10, 2011, just a day before Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation. "You have to make a film whatever [it] is," thought the director, then already a rising star on Egypt's independent film scene, perhaps best known for pulling off the award-winning Eye of the Sun (Taormina, 2010) without script, budget, shooting permissions, or full professional crew. A phone call later, award-winning Egyptian actor Amr Waked, who in 2005 started up production house Zadwith Salah el Hanafy, was on board as a producer. When the latter set off to Tahrir with cinematographer Victor Credi (awarded in Valencia for Basra), he had no idea that, within hours, he and Hanafy would become co-stars in their production house's first narrative feature film.

Set to the backdrop of the 2011 protests in Tahrir, Winter of Discontent takes its viewers into the lives of online activist (Amr Waked), state security officer Adel (Salah el Hanafy), and journalist Farah (Farah Youssef). It movingly depicts the state-sponsored torture that led to the popular uprising, and shows how state media was ultimately unable cover up the change sweeping the country, challenged by foreign news coverage and citizen journalism. The film, whose making-of notably features in French filmmaker Florence Tran's A Weapon of Choice, also subtly focuses on the camera as a tool of resistance. 

From a six-page treatment, the film has gone far. With the rare support of three other Egyptian production companies (Ein Shams Films, Aroma Film Labs, and Material House Film Production Egypt) inspired by the project, Zad was able to boost its budget to over $824,000, and complete the film in time for its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last August, where it received a standing ovation. Opting for the festival route, it has since screened in Chicago, São Paolo, Montpellier (Critics' Award and Special Mention), Stockholm, Brussels (notably at the European Parliament), Dubai (Best Actor for Amr Waked), Cairo (Jury Special Mention), and Beirut.

And the film has also done well in Egypt. In a distribution sector dominated by a few giants, the independent film has succeeded in securing a theatrical release on 23 copies distributed by major Egyptian distributor Al Arabia. In comparison, Yousry Nasrallah's French-Egyptian revolution fiction After the Battle was released in 23 Egyptian cinemas last year, while its French release on 30 copies catapulted it to third bestselling film from the Francophone south in France for 2012.

But unlike Nasrallah's film, the 100% Egyptian-produced Winter of Discontent still has no distributor in France. In fact, it has no distributor for anywhere in Europe, except for Ireland and the UK, where New Wave Films is expected to release the film shortly before Cannes, according to Daniel Ziskind, Zad's representative in Europe, who is soon to take the film to Cannes' Film Market. Distributors who are interested can watch the film on Festival Scope.

Zad is also looking at distributing the film in Latin America and Australia, home to large Arabic-speaking communities, and is talking to Chinese distributors. As for the Middle East, the film's producers are looking forward to further networking with potential distributors at the next MEDIS distribution network meeting in Cannes.

"Amr Waked is an actor-producer who can break borders," says Ziskind. A linguist who speaks fluent English and French, as well as Arabic and a little Italian, Waked has not only managed to combine roles in Western blockbusters (Syriana, Salmon Fishing in Yemen [+see also:
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) with success in Egypt (Yousry Nasrallah's The Aquarium), but is also soon to appear in European productions such as Fabrice Du Welz' upcoming Colt 45 and Frédéric Azémar's French-Portuguese television series L'Odyssée. 

With his first feature-length production, the actor-cum-producer, who recently joined the European Producers Club, has emerged as a fervent defender of independent cinema, and has many more projects by talented Egyptian directors up his sleeve.

These include The Exile, a $2.2m project directed by Atef Hetata (Closed Doors, awarded in Montpellier, Thessaloniki, and Venice in 1999) and co-produced by Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre for the Paris-based Mact Productions. Its director of photography is to be Rémy Chevrin (Live and Become, [+see also:
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), according to Ziskind. He will be in Cairo to this August for location scouting, and shooting is expected to kick off this October. Zad has also sent the script to Belgian actress Marie Gillain to see if she might be interested in starring in the film.

Alice Hackman

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