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Options for Studying Cinema and Theatrical Arts in Egypt and Iraq

Among the many subjects undergraduate students may choose as their major, cinema and theatre stand out as an option closely linked to one’s hobbies and passion, rather than as a mere academic field.

In this article, we review the most prominent educational destinations for studying cinema and theatre in Egypt and Iraq, as two models in the Arab world.

Cairo Higher Institute of Cinema

The Higher Institute of Cinema in Cairo is one of the member institutes of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s Academy of Arts. Founded in 1959, it is also a member of the International Association of Film and Television Schools (CILECT) and was the first institution to teach cinematic studies in the Middle East and Africa.

In addition to bachelor’s degree programmes, the institute awards master’s and doctoral degrees in cinematographic arts and sciences.

Sanaa Hashem, an assistant professor of screenwriting at the Institute, told Al-Fanar Media that the Higher Institute of Cinema is one of the five oldest institutes specialised in this field.

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The institute has two academic systems, the regular approved system and a “parallel” system. Both have the same academic departments, curricula, and admission tests, but tuition fees are higher in the parallel system, in exchange for more flexible admission requirements, especially in terms of applicants’ age.

Egypt’s Higher Institute of Cinema, founded in 1959, was the first institution to teach cinematic studies in the Middle East and Africa. It offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

The approved system admits only 10 percent of university graduates, along with 90 percent of high school graduates,” she said. “The parallel system opens the door widely for graduates of other educational institutions.” 

The institute has the following departments:

  • Directing.
  • Screenwriting.
  • Film Editing.
  • Production.
  • Landscape Architecture.
  • Audio Engineering.
  • Photography.
  • Animation.

Students must pass three exams to join the Higher Institute of Cinema. The first is a creative exam that tests applicants’ general knowledge, followed by an exam in cinematography for those who pass the first exam. 

“In the film taste test, applicants will watch and analyse a film, besides a translation part to measure their understanding of the English language,” she said.

“The third test is a four-day creative workshop, followed by an interview with the head of the department the applicant wishes to join.” 

Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts

Egypt’s Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts offers four-year academic programs with two admission systems similar to those of the Higher Institute of Cinema, and under the same conditions.

The Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts has three departments:

  • Acting and Directing.
  • Drama and Dramatic Criticism.
  • Theatrical Decoration.

Hanady Abdel-Khaleq, a teacher of acting and directing at the institute, said the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts offers a first-class specialised education, which distinguishes studying at the institute from studying at theatre departments in the faculties of arts at some Egyptian universities, as she put it.

“Each applicant must take an abilities test, through a creative workshop, that gives those who pass it the opportunity to join the institute,” she told Al-Fanar Media. “Each of our three departments admits about thirty applicants with different qualifications, including intermediate or university degrees.”

Theatre Sciences in the Faculties of Arts

Four Egyptian faculties of arts—those at the Universities of Helwan, Alexandria, Beni Suef, and Minia—have departments of theatre sciences.

Students enrol in the departments after graduating from high school.

“The department used to admit some university graduates in the past,” Manar Zein, a teaching assistant at Helwan University’s Department of Theatre Sciences, told Al-Fanar Media. “Now, we are satisfied with high school graduates only.”

These departments offer three divisions similar to those of the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts. They are acting and directing, criticism and drama, and decoration and fashion.

After their first academic year studying general subjects, students in the departments of theatre sciences choose the division they wish to specialise in, starting from their second year. In some divisions, students must take a preliminary examination before joining.

Faculties of Arts at four Egyptian universities have departments of theatre sciences, where students may study specialisations similar to those at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts.

The preliminary exam for students who wish to join the acting and directing division tests their abilities in classical and colloquial Arabic, by having them perform in two representative scenes.

Those who wish to join the decoration division need to score certain points in the same specialisation, determined by the department’s professors.

Students of the criticism and drama division are admitted without a test. 

Graduates of the theatre sciences department are qualified to work as schoolteachers in their specialisation, Zein said, or as interior designers for decoration graduates.

Drama and Theatre Criticism

The department of drama and theatre criticism at Ain Shams’s Faculty of Arts admits high school and university graduates. It accepts about fifty students a year.

The department specialises in training art critics, offering subjects such as authorship, drama, directing, scenography, acting, and directing curricula.

The aim is for graduates to be capable of writing a critical essay analysing the elements of an artwork, said Nour Ismail, a theatrical director and a graduate of the department. 

On how to join the department, Ismail said applicants are asked to watch a short film and write an analytical essay about it, in addition to translating a piece from English into Arabic, and answering questions about authors and directors. 

“After passing these exams, those interested in this study can join the department,” said Isamail, who noted that she chose theatrical directing after studying directing at the college.

Cinema and Theatre Studies in Iraq

The University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts has seven divisions, including a Department of Theatre Arts and a Department of Film and Television Arts.

Firas Al-Sharwat, an assistant professor of cinema, said the Department of Film and Television Arts offers a number of specialised subjects that students study for four years.

“These subjects include photography, montage, directing, sound, cinema and literature, and modern narrative studies,” he said.

To be admitted, applicants must have a grade average of 65 percent and pass admission tests. “Graduates of the Art Institute and those with previous experience in television work are preferred over others,” Al-Sharwat said.

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