Berlin: Egyptian Filmmaker Launches LGBTQ-Focused Production Company

Sam Abbas

Sam Abbas' ArabQ will launch with the director's first film, 'The Wedding,' about a closeted Muslim man grappling with his homosexuality as he prepares for his (straight) wedding.

Egyptian filmmaker Sam Abbas is tackling cultural taboos and stereotypes head on with the launch of the first-ever Arab-based film company that will focus on movies with LGBTQ themes.

Based in Alexandria, Egypt, ArabQ is looking to make both features and documentaries on the LGBTQ experience. All projects will also have a “link to the Middle Eastern experience” and will require a “self-identified queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender director and/or lead producer,” according to the company.

The enterprise is backed by an unnamed Egyptian producer who Abbas says wishes to remain anonymous because of the stigma homosexuality still has in Egypt. Homosexuality is not expressly banned in the coutnry, but discrimination on the basis of gender and sexuality is still common there.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter via email, Abbas said it would have been easier to base ArabQ in New York or anywhere in the U.S., but that the company picked Egypt to encourage “more queer cinema with Middle East ties.”

Financing for ArabQ films will largely come from private investors in the region.

ArabQ will launch with Abbas' feature film debut, The Wedding, which he wrote, directed and stars in. Abbas plays Rami, a young Muslim man living in America who is preparing for his wedding to Sara (Canadian actress Nikohl Boosheri) while continuing to live out his homosexuality in secret. Hend Ayoub, James Penfold and Harry Aspinwall co-star. The Wedding is currently in postproduction.

Abbas admits it will be a challenge to find local distribution for his company's slate.

“Just a couple days ago, Egyptian police arrested a gay concert organizer and charged him with ‘debauchery.’ So even if we were to play the films in a couple of theaters, most people interested in going wouldn’t [out of fear]," he says. Abbas sees ArabQ titles taking the route of most international art house films: touring the festival circuit before heading online.

“They will find their way to the right audience in the Middle East,” he says.