Sunday,19 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1377, ( 18 - 24 January 2018)
Sunday,19 May, 2019
Issue 1377, ( 18 - 24 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Mihi’s dream

Nahed Nasr revisits one of Egypt’s more significant centres for studying film

Al-Mihi’s dream
Al-Mihi’s dream

A few months ago the Raafat Al-Mihi Academy of Cinema Arts and Technology — founded by the late, renowned filmmaker Raafat Al-Mihi — reopened its doors to filmmaking students after a two-year hiatus. According to Tamer Al-Mihi, Raafat’s son, the academy maintains the late director’s vision for making an impact on the Egyptian film industry, but strategic changes have been introduced aimed primarily at sustainability.

Raafat Al-Mihi (1940-2015) was a pioneer of experimentation. He started his career as a screenwriter in 1966, then as a director in 1981, and made some of Egyptian film history’s landmarks: Sleepless Eyes (1981), The Avvocato (1983), Dear Men (1987), Fish, Milk, Tamarind (1988), Madames et Mademoiselles (1990) and Because God Loves You (2001), his last. Al-Mihi also established a production company, Studio 13, which produced most of his films. In 2000 he decided to rent and to renovate Studio Galal, one of the oldest film studios in Egypt, established by filmmaker Ahmed Galal and his wife the actress and producer Mary Queeny in 1944 and long neglected after the state took it over. 

According to Tamer, Al-Mihi dreamed of reviving the studio, but did not have enough money: “He was a stubborn adventurer, not only in filmmaking. He spent LE10 million on the renovation of the studio when all he had was LE500 thousand; the rest was bank loans.”

Al-Mihi’s project was to establish both educational and production spaces in one place, and that is how his Academy of Cinema Arts and Technology was born in 2003. “My father wanted to provide filmmaking students with a practical education,” Tamer says, “a way to practise how to make films and get involved in the film industry, and this became the dynamo in Galal Studio.  This was a response to the mainly theoretical education provided by the High Cinema Institute, where he was a teacher himself.” 

To achieve his goals Al-Mihi provided a two-year course teaching all aspects of filmmaking in theory and practice. Many prominent filmmakers today are graduates of the academy and many renowned filmmakers taught there; in addition to Al-Mihi himself, who taught screenwriting, these included directors Sherif Arafa and Osama Fawzi and cinematographer Mahmoud Abdel-Sami. In spite of legal and bureaucratic complications, notably in the purchase of the right to operate Studio Galal for 20 years, Al-Mihi was able to realise his dream.

“In his last years, my father’s health conditions were so bad he could not observe the academy and the studio in person. After his death we found it was not possible to continue in the same way, so we suspended activities for two years to study the situation.” He had managed the project in the spirit of an artist, not a businessman. “He did not build a sustainable administrative system to ensure the project could survive him.” 

Tamer Al-Mihi, an expert manager, is in a position to do just that. He remains proud of his father’s achievement, and he looks back with tender nostalgia to the days when he assisted him on location. “I witnessed how stubbornly he believed in his dreams and that’s what my sister and I inherited from him. Although I am not a filmmaker myself I share my father’s determination to make an impact by providing young filmmakers with the opportunity to become professionals.” And indeed the two-year hiatus left many aspiring filmmakers at a loss.

“Filmmakers face many obstacles that include the production and distribution process, but the most important thing is they should be professionally prepared to take the lead. With the few educational spaces in Egypt most of which give very short courses without connecting the students with the film industry we cannot reach the professional level we seek. This what we are trying to respond to in the academy.”   

For 18 months a group of enthusiastic filmmakers, most of them graduates of the Al-Mihi Academy or friends of the late filmmaker, undertook a needs assessment exercise to formulate the academy’s new strategy. “We found out that a two-year course is not practical for the students who are more attracted to intensive courses where they can learn many things in a short time and start their practices. It is also impractical in terms of the financial and time capacities of the students.” The academy now provides affordably priced three-month courses in screenwriting and acting, with plans to add directing and cinematography in the future. 

On the administrative level, a hierarchal system has been built enabling sustainable teamwork; the current director is filmmaker Tamer Sami. At the same time Studio 13 too is resuming work with productions by academy students. “That’s what was on my father’s mind when he established the academy here in Studio Galal next to his own production company,” Tamer explains. And this sounds very encouraging.

Graduates of film education initiatives like Zat Studio and the Ali Badrakhan Academy seldom become part of the industry, but with the Al-Mihi Academy this is precisely the idea. It targets secondary school graduates keen on filmmaking who have the time and commitment to complete the course requirements including a mandatory graduation project. The academy then provides access to post production and distribution facilities — and so to the market. Tamer hopes that before too long Studio 13 will be producing full-length films by academy graduates.

“Filmmaking is not only an art but also a business,” he says. “Any filmmaker should combine both disciplines. Part of being professional is to know how to produce your film and to understand the market in which you’re making it. My father struggled to reach what he wanted. He was a stubborn fighter with a vision who never gave up and this is what we learnt from him. Although we have been paying the full rent for Studio Galal for almost 15 years, we are only allowed to use two thirds of the space. We have many lawsuits I hope we will win so that we can enlarge the opportunities for film production by building new studios. My father’s mission was to revive and maintain the great Ahmed Galal’s initiative, and everyone should support this mission.” 

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