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Arab Interest in Animated Films Isn’t Reflected in University Curricula, Scholar Says

Without training and funding, Arab countries will have to continue to import animated films that contradict Arab culture, says Mohamed Ghazala, an animated filmmaker and chair of the Cinematic Arts School at Saudi Arabia’s Effat University.

Animated film education at Arab universities is less than it should be and funding is insufficient compared to the great demand for content, he said in an interview with Al-Fanar Media.

Ghazala, who is also an assistant professor of animation in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Minia University, in Egypt, said updating the curricula of university film programmes and providing them with professors who specialise in the industry could transform a country like Egypt into a hub for animated films, because of its large population, proximity to Europe, and competitive pricing.

Launching a strong animation industry in Egypt would develop capabilities for producing Arabic content that would both preserve Arab culture and provide job opportunities in an important creative field, Ghazala said.

Interest in such programmes has grown, he said, but education and training have not kept pace.

“The great and growing demand for this art makes Arab countries resort to buying content from abroad. This puts products in front of us that do not express, and in fact completely contradict, our culture.”

Mohamed Ghazala Chair of the Cinematic Arts School at Effat University

Ghazala said there were only seven academies specialising in animation in the Arab region. “The great and growing demand for this art makes Arab countries resort to buying content from abroad,” he said. “This puts products in front of us that do not express, and in fact completely contradict, our culture.”

Artistic and Academic Work

Ghazala is a working artist as well as an academic. He has directed and co-directed many prize-winning films, such as the animated short films “Hm Hm” (2005) and “Honayn’s Shoe” (2009).

Just last year, he wrote, directed and produced “The Pyramid”, which won the Best Animated Film prize at the 2022 National Egyptian Film Festival. He has also made a series of films for the Yemen Women Union on girls’ education which were shown at Yemeni schools and forums.

He earned a doctorate from Minia University with a thesis on “The Direct Creative Experience of Animation Artists”.

Ghazala said expanding the teaching of animation in the Arab region would require a real will from educational and cultural officials. He called on the administrators of Arab private universities to open schools to teach cinema and animation.

While the high cost of studios and shooting equipment may be too much for cinema studies programmes, he said, animation education equipment is much less expensive.

animated films
Mohamed Ghazala, an animated filmmaker and educator, says the region has to import animated films because it doesn’t support creating its own. (Photo courtesy of Mohamed Ghazala)

He also stressed the importance of providing training opportunities to develop talent, teach students how to improve the product, promote content, and look at the outside world to produce globally competitive films.

“We need the decision and the will to produce Arabic content,” he said. “We do not lack talent or ideas.”

Funding Is a Problem

Arab students have bypassed official animation education and are studying it online, he said, but their biggest problem was how to fund their own films.

In Western countries, there are funds and grants to support animated films, which give young people a chance to produce such films, he said

In the Arab region, students and graduates do not have such advantages to produce independent animated films and enjoy their freedom of expression. Support is limited to government institutions, like Egypt’s Ministry of Culture, and to sums that do not help much in film production.

In Saudi Arabia, Ghazala said,  the Daw’ Film Competition and the Red Sea Fund  provide some support. He hopes that there will be similar support for animated films in the Arab world, and enough that “we could stop importing and dubbing content.”

“We need the decision and the will to produce Arabic content. We do not lack talent or ideas.”

Mohamed Ghazala

“Animated films are still seen as belonging to children, and less serious than cinematic and feature films,” he said. “In fact, this industry provides meaningful content, and has global competition, and Oscars.”

Little Notice from International Groups

Ghazala also said that the Arab world and Africa were missing from international associations of animated film artists and from histories of animation.

In 2005, he contacted the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA), to request membership. At the time, the France-based association had 5,000 members worldwide, but none from the Arab region or Africa. In addition, none of the association’s 30 branches were in Africa and the Arab world.

In 2008, Ghazala became a member of the association, and a branch was opened in Egypt. Later, he became a member of the association’s Board of Directors, and he has served more than once as its vice president.

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In 2006 he reviewed the Italian scholar Giannalberto Bendazzi’s book “Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation”, and found only half a page on Egypt. He contacted the author and, after lengthy conversations, they met five years later, in 2011. By 2016, a revised version of the book was issued, with nearly 25 pages on the Arab world and Africa, which Ghazala himself contributed to writing.

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