Amongst the fintechs and e-commerce startups ruling Egypt’s ecosystem, Gemini Africa is looking to spark an entrepreneurial revolution in a field that has been impervious to innovation: cinema.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that, right now, Egypt’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is the best it's ever been. Whether it’s fintechs looking to solve the very many gaps in formal financial systems, or e-commerce startups easing Egyptians into the so-called post-pandemic ‘New Normal’, innovation and entrepreneurship have touched every corner of life as we know it.
Yet, many industries have remained impervious to innovation, decades old practices and fields that have, by and large, remained the same. One such field is the world of cinema and filmmaking. Aside from a consistent and natural evolution in tools, there have been few - if any - real, impactful, lasting leaps for the field since the advent of the ‘talkies’.
It’s something that has been in the crosshairs of Gemini Africa for some time. While many will know the firm as an investment company first and foremost, it also sits as something of a hub for entrepreneurial ecosystems in Egypt and Africa, one that seeks to drive innovation as much as invest in it. For Adly Thoma, Chairman and CEO of Gemini Africa, the film industry has longed for the touch of innovation and new ideas - and now is the time. As the man behind the very concept of the CinemaTech track, Thoma has almost made it his personal mission to make what is a radical initiative stick, working tirelessly to secure intellectual property rights and give the track international exposure.
“We started off by trying to link and mingle the entrepreneurial ecosystem with the cinema industry by initiating programs on how to use technology to develop the industry,” he said, touching on a key point of what has quickly evolved into a shared vision for where CinemaTech can go. “So we are focusing on platforms, software, creative thinking, and new techniques that help with cinema production; our expertise is using the technology within cinema to help improve the filmmaking industry.”
Tech has been the driver of so much innovation across the ecosystem, changing industries, services and products at their very core - but what of an industry and practice that relies so heavily on technology already, a field that has lived on very specific technology in all of its forms to tie the artistic side of it all together. In short, where does cinema go? Cameras are cameras, editing suites are editing suites.
Naturally, Thoma and co. looked to Egypt’s entrepreneurs as the first step of an ambitious plan. In October, 2020, Gemini Africa sent out a call, inviting ideas and suggestions - and while an initial sense of resistance threatened their plans, the feedback and applications validated their initial thoughts.
“I received many calls commending us that what we were trying to do was very interesting but that we wouldn’t find enough ideas or firms working in this small space,” he recalls. “However, we received more than 150 applications in less than ten days. We filtered them, conducted one-on-one interviews and completed other steps before selecting ten finalists who pitched their idea at the El Gouna Film Festival.”
And so the CinemaTech Track was born, a first-of-its-kind avenue that sought to bring the world of cinema and entrepreneurship together. More significantly, it seeks to bring together art and technology in ways that hadn’t been seen before.
Crucially, Gemini Africa was welcomed with open arms by the local film industry, its pitch competition at El Gouna Film Festival in 2020 standing as one of the more unique aspects of the sprawling festival, an occasion that grounded the glitz and the glam of red carpets in film as industry, film as craft.
Of over 150 applicants to the CinemaTech Track, only 10 were chosen to pitch their concepts at the festival and the event was such a resounding success that Gemini Africa struck up a partnership with social media giant, TikTok, the first of partnerships and collaborations, both within the film industry and outside of it.
In 2021 alone, the track was welcomed to participate in Luxor African Film Festival, Aswan International Women Film Festival, Monaco Streaming Film Festival and even Cannes through a mixture of panels, workshops and other activities. Other collaborations have included establishing startup-supporter, Sustainable Innovation Labs, alongside FEPS Business Incubator, the National Institute of Governance & Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Planning & Economic Development, leading to a subsequent three-day hackathon; a webinar with AUC School of Business; and a special activation at the maiden edition of Egypt's Entrepreneur Awards that involved inviting audience members to take part in an interactive movie.
The track has also won support from within the industry, with partnerships struck with the likes of MAD Solutions, a multifaceted giant in the local industry; the International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFT), Monaco-based NGO for films in emerging regions; and the Global Film & Media Initiative (GFMI), a Sweden-based NGO that supports film, media and music internationally.
It’s partnerships like that latter two that will be key to the track’s intended penetration into Africa. Gemini is also collaborating with various African entities and stakeholders in the cinema ecosystem to hold CinemaTech awareness workshops across the continent in the hope of not only discovering CinemaTech entrepreneurs, but triggering a wave of media-based innovation. Gemini Africa intends to give suitable candidates a platform through regional film festivals, a launchpad to propel the relevant parts of an African ecosystem that is booming across the board.
This is all just the tip of the iceberg, however, with Gemini Africa also set to participate in this year’s editions of Venice Film Festival and El Gouna Film Festival, with more to be announced.
So what happens next? Well, the sky's the limit - but ultimately, we don’t know. What Gemini Africa has shown is that this is an area ripe for innovation and new ideas - and it’s that sense of the unknown that has the film industry excited and maybe even a little anxious. As it stands, however, the cards are the hands of Thoma and co., with Gemini Africa owning the intellectual property rights to the CinematechTrack. And so like so many sequel-baiting movie cliffhangers, stay tuned.