Can a tech start-up help revolutionize the local Egyptian film industry? | New
Egypt has experienced a boom in tech start-ups over the past 18 months and this phenomenon is now spilling over to the country’s film industry.
CinemaTech, a new initiative to encourage entrepreneurship and tech-based start-ups in the Egyptian film industry, is catching this wave.
Since its creation in 2020, it has supported around twenty start-ups, through mentoring, training and investments, and is now considering expanding its reach in Africa. Projects supported to date include a company specializing in the development and design of interactive cinematic experiences; an application promoting cinema for hearing-impaired viewers and a scriptwriting tool in Arabic.
The initiative is the brainchild of Adly Thoma, former business leader and management consultant to technology and energy supply giant Schlumberger, who has been the CEO of Cairo-based investment firm Gemini Africa since 2018.
A subsidiary of the vast Orascom group of the Egyptian billionaire Sawiris family, the company’s mission is to support the growth of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt and across Africa. One of its areas of intervention is the creative industries and, within this framework, the film industry.
âOur goal at Gemini is to support untapped business potential from an entrepreneurial perspective. The film industry in Egypt is ripe for such an approach, âsays Thoma.
The CinemaTech adventure began at the El Gouna Film Festival in 2020 after Gemini Africa launched its first call for cinema-focused start-up projects in fall 2020.
âWe have received hundreds of applications. We did our homework, shortlisted and invited that shortlist to El Gouna for award-winning training and pitching, âsays Thoma.
The winners included Hall Of Talents, a networking platform for filmmakers, artists and industry professionals; Droovy, an interactive cinema design and development company, and Egyptian Cinema Experience, a next-generation technological museum using technologies such as virtual reality to allow visitors to interact with exhibits.
âThis was the first corporate presentation session to take place at a film festival in the world and we are proud to have created this intellectual property,â says Thoma.
He was back at the El Gouna festival (October 14-22) this year with 11 new projects and a second round of pitches on October 15. This year’s winners included Stepinside, a virtual tour tool that can be used for virtual tracking and databases. , the collaborative online platform âINTmediaâ and the audio production facility âQuadAâ.
Thoma also transported the project to Upper Egypt through a partnership with the Aswan International Women’s Film Festival (AIWFF), which takes place in June.
âUpper Egypt is one of the most disadvantaged regions in the country. We had a three month program that culminated in a pitch event at the festival, which is small, not like El Gouna, Venice or Cannes, but it was kind of a watershed moment, âsaid Thoma.
Projects resulting from the initiative included Moviette, a tool to help filmmakers measure audience preferences and tastes using big data and AI; Fitting, continuity software aimed at detecting differences between cuts, and Dolaby, software for digitizing costumes and sets from different eras to support the work of artistic directors.
CinemaTech also continued to support the development of its El Gouna 2020 winners. Over the summer, it worked with Droovy to organize a VIP interactive cinema event set against the backdrop of Pyramids, allowing guests to decide on the late 2007 thriller. The island (El Gezira), with Hend Sabry (alias Hind Sabri) and Ahmed El Sakka.
âEach guest was given a QR, allowing them to decide whether Hend’s character would live or die. It was a challenge to organize as we had to make sure there was sufficient mobile coverage for the 900 guests, âexplains Thoma.
In the case of Hall Of Talents, CinemaTech helped the founders find funders and start a business. More generally, participants benefit from mentoring as well as training on key aspects of starting and running a business such as project management and marketing.
These activities are supported by a high-level board of directors comprising Orascom CEO and CEO Naguib Sawiris, film and TV stars Hend Sabry, Raya Abirached, Shereen Reda, director Marwan Hamed, director of photography Ahmad Al Morsy, producer Tamer Mortada, Alaa Karkouti, co-founder of MAD Solutions and the Arab Cinema Center (ACC), and Amir Ramses, director and artistic director of the El Gouna Film Festival.
âIt’s not just about investing. Being selected and being a part of Gemini Africa can also help participants go to the market to seek investments. The main priority for us is to make sure that each of our winners gets the support they need. We want to create success stories, âsays Thoma.
He suggests that sometimes just attending the pitch sessions, where attendees network with established business and tech professionals, helps in itself. âOne of last year’s El Gouna attendees came to me last year and said, ‘You saved me seven to eight years in my career by inviting me here.’ In Aswan, it was more brutal. Participants told us that we gave them hope by listening and believing in their dreams.
After landing at the Venice Production Bridge in September to promote the program and unveil the painting at a special event, Thoma is now planning trips to the Berlinale’s European Film Market next year and is in talks with to host the one of CinemaTech’s presentation events at the Cannes Market.