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“Europe must open up to Arab cinema”

Industry Report: Europe and the Rest of the World

Daniel Ziskind • Producer


Cineuropa met up with producer Daniel Ziskind at the Cairo Film Festival, giving us an opportunity to discover a booming market

Daniel Ziskind  • Producer

Cineuropa: In your opinion, who are the most relevant new Egyptian directors? 
Daniel Ziskind:
 My favourite is Mohamed Diab, the director of 678 and Clash [+see also:
film review
film profile
, but also Amr Salama, the young director of Sheikh JacksonSherif El Bendary and Marwan Hamed, the director of The Yacoubian Building. For me, today, we should be keeping a close eye on these directors. They make films that will travel outside the region.

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After the 2011 Revolution, is it easier or harder to co-produce films with Egypt?
Thanks to the co-production agreement between France and Egypt, Egyptian cinema is still a reference in Europe. Mohamed Diab has only made two films, 678 and Clash, and his second movie went to Cannes. It's difficult to find partners on Egyptian films, but there are still those names that I mentioned that spark interest from co-producers in Europe, international sales agents and distributors. I clearly see an improvement has happened in the last ten years. European co-producers read Egyptian scripts. Now, there are a lot of movies in the market, which is inevitably becoming more selective.

Do you feel that scriptwriting is evolving in Egypt?
To find a partner, the most important element will always be the script. The new generation of Egyptian directors are listening to foreign partners and they work a lot with script doctors. European partners inevitably request changes in the script. Egyptian directors are now keener to listen than before. Anyway, I think Egyptian filmmakers and, more generally, Arab directors need Europe to export their films. It is very difficult to find a distributor for an Arab film in the United States.

What difficulties do you encounter as a European when working with Egypt?
The notion of time. For example, on a project I am on at the moment, the director wants to shoot in a month and a half, and I got hold of the screenplay just one month ago. I tried to explain to him that within this timeframe, it would be impossible to find partners. This notion of time is a problem sometimes.

Do you have the impression that in the Arab world, there is a kind of standardisation in the way films are being made? Or, on the contrary, does each country retain its own identity?
The filmmakers I work with do not try to copy and paste American films; those who want to do so do not make it across the region. The filmmakers I work with have their own identity, people like Salama and Diab. They are witnesses and they talk about the vision they have of their country. Europe must open up to this type of movie.

What is the biggest challenge on a European co-production?
To find the right balance in the expenditures that must be made in the co-producing countries.

You’ve worked in sales; what are the ingredients needed to sell a movie? What advice would you give to young people?
I would tell them to take all the time they need to write a good script and share it. A script that is refused will not get a second chance. This is the greatest piece of advice I can give. Secondly, they should not hurry to finish a film for a festival. There is life after Cannes, and there is life after Berlin. Doing things fast can take its toll on the editing. It takes two years to make a movie, and many movies are done in less than a year. You pay the price in the end.

What is the average budget of the films you’ve worked on?
Between €1 million and €1.3 million – that’s the base amount. I work with small movies with low budgets. A film of over €2 million in Egypt will not be able to find partners in Europe. With low-budget films, you can find half the budget in Europe.

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(Translated from French)

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