It would be impossible to think about Arab cinema in 2010-2020 without taking into account the decade’s political and economic circumstances. The global economy had barely survived the crisis of 2008-2009 when the Arab Spring broke out, leading to a decline in commercial film production even as the revolutionary euphoria pushed not only filmmakers but also producers and funders to feature the events in question. This in turn led to wider participation in festivals worldwide, generating unprecedented benefits for Arab cinema.
In the first couple of years after the start of the Arab Spring, low- to medium-quality films on the topic were produced. In 2011, 10 Egyptian filmmakers (Yousry Nasrallah, Sherif Arafa, Kamla Abu Zikri, Ahmad Abdallah, Mohamed Ali, Marwan Hamed, Khaled Marei, Mariam Abu Ouf, Ahmed Alaa and Sherif Al-Bendary) contributed a piece each to Tamantashr Youm (18 Days). Most were unoriginal and clichéd but the film, which premiered in the special screening section of Cannes Film Festival, was very effectively self-produced by its makers and was made on almost no budget.
This decade saw a rise in low-budget films made by younger filmmakers not necessarily dealing with anything political. Hala Lotfi’s Al-Khoroug Lel-Nahar (Coming Forth By Day) won the best director award in the New Horizons Competition at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2012, and a Special Mention for Cinematography at Thessaloniki Film Festival in 2013. The filmmaker’s goal was to illustrate how people lived with death as she depicted the daily routine of a young girl and her mother taking care of the father who has a brain stroke.
Ahmed Fawzi Saleh’s Ward Masmoum (Poisonous Roses) premiered at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and won Salah Abu Seif (Special Jury) Award at the Cairo International Film Festival, where it screened in the Arab Cinema Horizons section. The filmmaker tells the story of a young girl and her brother living in the tanneries of Cairo. The girl is obsessed with her brother, the boy dreams of leaving the country.
Another important event of the decade is that of the Egyptian film selected in the competition of Cannes Film Festival six years after Nasrallah’s After The Battle: Abu Bakr Shawky’s Yomeddine. The film won the François Chalais Award at Cannes 2018 and the Silver Tanit at Carthage Film Festival, among other awards. Shawky made a road film illustrating some details of Egypt as he follows a Coptic man with leprosy who leaves the leper colony where he spent most of his life in search of his family in Upper Egypt.