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CIFF Round-Up: Egyptian artists dominate with lion’s share of wins

Egyptian artists scooped this year’s major wins in the 34th Cairo International Film Festival which comprised 150 films from 70 countries, screened over 10 days

Wael Eskandar, Friday 10 Dec 2010
photo : Bassam El-Zoghbi
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Egypt’s Microphone and El Shooq has brought Egypt back onto the international scene by winning best film for the Arab competition and the international competition respectively. Amr Waked and Sawsan Badr won best actor and best actress awards in the international competition.

The 34th Cairo International Film Festival ended on Thursday 9 December 2010, with a closing ceremony in which the winners were announced. With many improvements relative to its predecessors, a few of the old problems remained intact.

The overall film selection was not completely satisfactory to movie-goers or art enthusiasts as few films in the competition managed to stand out as a representative of good cinema, however the winners stood strong.

Awards and Closing Ceremony

Microphone garnered much praise, not just from the jury but from other winners. In the final ceremony, George Hachem, whose movie Stray Bullet received the prize for best script in unison with Mohamed El Deragi’s Ibn Babel, expressed his appreciation of Microphone.

Stray Bullet is a low-budget Lebanese film, set in the summer of 1976 during the civil war and follows the life of Noha. Ibn Babel, which adds the Cairo Film Festival’s award to a peace prize and an award from Amnesty International, is about the atrocities uncovered post-Sadam Hussein’s rule in Iraq.

The jury for the Arab competition recognised the young actress, Hend El Fahem for her debut performance in the film, Late December. It also issued a certificate of appreciation for the film, The Mosque by Daoud Aoulad Syad, a satire about a film crew who create a movie set in a village which includes a mosque. When  the set was dismantled  they left the mosque because of its sanctity and in time people used the set as a place of worship.

Director Svetoslav Ovcharov, whose film Voice Over won the best director award in the international competition, as well as the International Federation of Film Critics prize. Also commended was Microphone. Another notable film was Juanita Wilson’s debut movie, As If I’m Not There, which centres on the horrifying atrocities that took place during the Bosnian war.

The gold award for the digital competition, in an unanimous decision, was for the movie Joy by Mike De Jong.

Winners and jury members paid tribute to the late director, Mario Monicelli, a master of Italian comedy, who died a week ago aged 95.

Amr Waked was applauded for winning the best actor in the international competition, together with Alessandro Gassman for their roles in the Italian film, The Father and the Foreigner.  

Perhaps the most moving moment in the ceremony was the declaration of Sawsan Badr as one of the winners for best actress award in the international competition, for her role as Fatma in El Shooq.   Isabelle Huppert as Babou in Coppcabana, shared the best actress  honour. This award crowns Sausan Badr's achievements in cinema, not only for her mesmerising performance in El Shooq, but for the body of her work as one of Egypt’s most talented actresses.

Glitches and Improvements

Many conferences were organised this year to discuss important issues, such as Egyptians abroad and the problems of film-making, piracy and production. These managed to start on time and in their designated places unlike previous years. This year also marked the first Cairo Film Connection, whose award was a LE100, 000 prize to scripts in the pre-production phase.

However, despite these improvements some of the old shortcomings don’t seem to have been addressed. The main problem is that of information or lack thereof. It took the festival a while to finalise the film schedule, and it was very difficult to make head from tails of the schedule posted on the website. Admittedly the printed timetable was far more accessible but even then it lacked the basic information befitting an international festival, such as which subtitles were available and in which language the film was spoken. Arabic speakers found difficulties with films like Klim Shipenko’s Who Am I?, spoken in Russian with only English subtitles. Foreign guests were unable to follow films such as Copie Confrome or Ibn Babel, since they were presented in Arabic subtitles only.

Speaking of foreign guests, there were three screenings of Egyptian movies for foreign visitors. These screenings, as explained by organisers at the door, “will not include a single Egyptian in the audience.” It seemed a little bizarre but would have been acceptable had the other screenings of Egyptian movies not been restricted to members of the press and special invitation.

Each of the Egyptian films competing in the festival was shown only one other time for the duration of the festival, in contrast to other films that were shown three or four times. The Egyptian films were premiered in the Family Cinema, all the way out in Maadi, an odd choice considering the remoteness of the destination for some people. To make matters worse, the schedule advertised these screenings as available to the public. Regular movie-goers made the trip all the way to Maadi, only to discover that entrance was limited to press, special guests and invitation-holders only. While the decision to withhold  the Egyptian films from the public may be understandable, the misinformation about the screenings remains inexcusable.

The Man on the Street

By denying Egyptians entry to Egyptian films, the festival contradicted Ezzat Abou-Ouf’s conclusion that the festival has reached the ‘man on the street’. Further impediments to the man on the street were the unavailability of information regarding the movies being screened. The films covered a broad range of categories but because there was so little information, it became exceedingly difficult for a viewer to decide which movie to watch. Even the answer to the old question of whether the movie has a story line or explicit scenes (qessa wala manazer), was unavailable.

According to Abou-Ouf, “The festival is more organised, successful and dazzling.” That may very well be accurate, but it puts the CIFF in a difficult position. If the festival aims to be dazzling, can Egypt compete in the face of the exuberant amounts pumped into festivals of other Gulf countries in the region, such as Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai? And if the festival aims for better quality films, then why has there been so little investment in this year’s selection, or at the very least, in promoting the movies to the general public?

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