The 19th Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts opens on 19 April in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, featuring 115 films this year from 45 countries.
Headed by Essam Zakaria, this edition is dedicated to the late critic Samir Farid and director Mohamed Kamel El-Kaliouby, both of whom left an influential mark on cinema and film criticism.
The festival will also honour its founder, director and author Hashim El-Nahas.
A number of El-Nahas' films will be screened during the festival, in addition to the release of his new book titled Naguib Mahfouz: the Conscience of His Time.
“Through the festival I hope you will get a chance to take a closer look at some of my works, and give this honouring your blessing,” El-Nahas said.
One of the most important changes to the festival this year is that from now on its director will not be the head of the National Cinema Center (NCC), as was the case with previous editions. The change aims to provide a continuity that was otherwise disrupted with changes in position at the NCC.
“This will ensure a more stable festival in the long term, as the director will be allowed to stay in charge for more than one year,” Khaled Abdelgelil, head of the NCC said.
A global festival
Held largely at the Ismailia Culture Palace, in addition to other venues, the festival will open with the Spanish documentary film J: Beyond Flamenco, the latest film by renowned director Carlos Saura.
Saura’s prolific career spans over half a century, marked by a number of international awards, including the Silver Bear at Berlinale for La Caza (1996), special jury awards at Cannes for La Prima Angelica (1973) and Cria Cuervos (1975), in addition to BAFTA, Goya, and Golden Globe awards, as well as multiple Oscar nominations for films including Carmen (1983), Tango (1993), and Mama Cumple 100 Años (1973).
“During the selection, the jury members were looking first and foremost at the quality of films, but also sought variety in subject matter, treatment as well as the countries of production,” Zakaria said at the press conference this morning.
Among the participating countries are Italy, France, Lebanon, USA, Belgium, Canada, Senegal, Argentina, Belarus, Djibouti, Palestine and Ukraine, among others.
“The festival is considered to be four festivals in one,” Zakaria added, pointing to the four main competition sections of the festival.
The Long Documentaries competition will feature 10 films from 11 countries, with one film from Egypt, Al-Madina Sawf Totaredak (The City Will Pursue You) by Ahmed Nabil. The Short Documentaries competition will include 18 films from 18 countries, including one Egyptian film, Noqtat Al-Baa (The Letter B’s Dot) by Hana Rakhawy.
The competition for short features will feature 17 films from 18 countries with Egyptian film Khalil by Islam Shamel. The animation competition will present 18 films from 16 countries, including one from Egypt, Tareeq Tawil (Long Road) by Adel Badrawy.
Members of the selection jury included Egyptian director Ahmed Abdalla alongside Indian director Arun Chadha, Italian director Manu Gerosa, South Korean director Yung A Han and Spanish director Margarita Maguregui.
Considering that every section contains only one film from Egypt, Zakaria explained to Ahram Online that the priority was to bring foreign films to audiences in Ismailia.
“Of course it is important to have Egyptian films participating, but we didn’t want them to be taking the place of other international films that we have the chance to screen here,” he said.
J: Beyond Flamenco, by Carlos Saura (Photo: courtesy of Ismailia Film Festival)
The festival will also have three special screening programmes, as well as a number of films in a panorama section that are out of competition.
One section highlights animation films from South Korea, bringing a selection of 10 films in the genre.
“We noticed how animation films in South Korea are flourishing, and being recognised globally for their excellence. We found that we had a large number of good submissions in that genre, so we chose six to include in a special section,” Zakaria said.
A similar observation during the selection phase led to the creation of a programme for films that focus on Dance, Music and Song, which presents six films from six different countries.
Special focus is also given to Egyptian films, in a section dedicated to films produced by the National Cinema Center. This section will screen the premieres of six films.
As for the non-competitive Panorama section, the festival presents five short documentaries from six countries, including Ana Wel Dr. Sobhy (Me and Dr. Sobhy) from Egypt.
This section also presents two feature-length documentaries, We Are Egyptian Armenians from Egypt, and Ragaa Bint El-Mallah from Morocco.
Additionally, the Panorama Shorts will present 12 films from eight countries, notably featuring four from Italy. Finally the Panorama Animation section will showcase 10 films from 11 countries.
Two workshops will be given: one on animation for ages nine and older, and one on scriptwriting that will also educate filmmakers on how to finance their films apply for funds and grants.
Alongside El-Nahas’ book, other publications to be released during the festival include Searching for Kaliouby by Hussein Abdellatif and Adventures of Global Cinema by Salah Hesham.
Gorvernor of Ismalilia Yassin Taher said that “last year the festival’s goal was to revive itself after a few tumultous years. Now that it is back on the agenda the goal this year is to make it a stronger international festival and ensure its progression.”
Taher added that the return of the festival to Ismailia, alongside other cultural events, will hopefully serve to revive tourism in the city and in Egypt. He noted that the festival coincides with several other celebrations in the city, including Sinai Liberation Day (25 April) and a commemoration of renowned poet Abdelrahman El-Abnoudi, as well as the new Strawberry Festival.
Press conference for the Ismailia Film Festival (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
An important aspect of this year's programme will be the launch of new cooperation with Morocco.
According to Abdelgelil, two partnership agreements between the High Cinema Institute in Cairo and the Audiovisual Centre in Rabat will be officially finalised and signed at the festival.
The countries share close ties already and positive cinematic cooperation, he said. The agreements are intended to boost that mutual support, for film shooting procedures, archiving, festival organisation, and other aspects of cooperation.
In response to a question from the audience on how the festival is working to garner a wider audience in Ismailia, considering that last year's local outreach could have been stronger, Zakaraia said that “attracting a local audience is a problem with all festivals.”
“It's something that needs work all year round to garner an audience base. This is especially difficult since the films are not the in the ‘popular’ genre, but often require some artistic awareness and appreciation from the viewers,” the festival director said.
Nonetheless, the festival has taken several additional measures this year to reach out to locals.
“One of the things we did this year was to establish the Society of Ismailia Film Lovers at the Ismalilia Culture Palace, which screens a selection of films all year round,” he said, adding that this creates a community around the festival that stretches beyond its week-long screenings.
“We started some of the workshops early this year which are taking place right now, also to extend the festival beyond its duration. At the closing we will screen the results of the workshops. This year will also bring back the café screenings that Ismailia Festival was known for, and we have expanded our screening venues, so as to reach a wider, more varied audience,” Zakaria concluded.
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