New series finds truth on the big screen 

As an alternative to the scandal-hit Hollywood film industry, Middle East Christian satellite TV network SAT-7 recently began screening a series that introduces viewers to some of the best Arab-language films that offer valuable and truthful insights into human experience.

Cinema Style is presented by Fr Botros Daniel, the head of the Egyptian Catholic Center Cinema Festival (ECCCF). This annual showcase of films began in 1952, just three years after the first BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards). While western and international blockbusters are popular in Egypt, what distinguishes Cinema Style and the films screened at ECCCF is that the films are all selected for their moral values.

“We want to award work that helps us to connect on a human level with others and make them feel considered and loved and appreciated,” Fr Danial says.

The festival looks to honour the films, actors and film makers who promote humanitarian values, both in their on-screen and off-screen lives.

Where the ECCCF is concerned, productions that centre on violence or sex are excluded; stories that affirm the dignity of the characters and relate their struggles and successes with honesty and respect are celebrated. It is for this reason that SAT-7 has screened the festival’s annual awards in recent years.

Positive and challenging

In each of the 13 episodes of Cinema Style, film directors and movie insiders give their analysis of the story, the picture, the music and the actors. Towards the end of the episode, Fr Danial unfolds the positive values he sees in the film.

Among this season’s selection are a number of films that address challenging issues. Cairo 678 follows three women who try to find relief from daily sexual harassment. In Asmaa a woman with HIV Aids refuses to surrender to her condition and gives her all to offer glimmers of hope to others suffering in the same way. Sleepless Nights, on the other hand, is a successful comedy drama. Critics acclaimed its realistic depiction of the issues faced by its four young couples in the first years of marriage – experiences Egyptian films rarely explored in an honest way.

Human values

“In every episode we emphasise through art the human values of the film,” says series producer Sherif Wahba. “Fr Danial uses the same method when choosing the films that participate in the annual Egyptian Catholic Film Festival.”

Wahba said one aim of the series was to promote a greater appreciation of films that uphold “values of respect, social duty, honesty, commitment and others”. He also hoped that groups who tend to shun cinema as taboo would have their eyes opened to the positive contribution good films make to our understanding of others.

These goals sit comfortably alongside SAT-7’s own broadcasting schedules. Besides its teaching, worship and talk shows, all of its channels include a variety of Christian and family-friendly films. These range from biblical and factual biographical films to those that portray characters faced with the difficult moral choices we may all encounter. 

Fr Danial comments: “We admire SAT-7 a lot. SAT-7 covers events genuinely and honestly and allows others to share their message through it, which is very rare in the world of media. I commend it and every person who works in it.”

Festival facts

  • The Egyptian Catholic Center holds an annual film festival in Cairo, Egypt. Organised by members of the Franciscan order, the festival chooses films that are family-oriented and celebrate positive humanitarian values. The annual festival awards actors and actresses for their roles in these films and for their participation in social activities promoting human morals.
  • The centre began in 1949 with the support of the cinema historian Farid ElMeezawy and Franciscan monk Botros Francis as the region’s first Christian cultural centre that supports films. The festival began in 1952.

Launched in 1996, SAT-7 broadcasts Christian and educational satellite television to an audience of around 25 million people in the Middle East and North Africa. Utilising production teams who live in or originate from the region, SAT-7 broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish on five channels.

Lindsay Shaw is Press and Communications Officer for SAT-7 UK