On Tuesday, 1 November, on her show Hona Al-3asema that airs on CBC satellite channel, Egyptian TV presenter Lamis El-Hadidi hosted Tamer El-Said, director of Akher Ayyam El-Medina (In the Last Days of the City), a film that was removed from the programme of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) in its upcoming edition to open 15 November.
The festival’s decision baffled the producers and the whole crew who continue their fight for the film’s right to be screened. The film's director, Tamer El-Said, and the film's team were notifed by CIFF's administration “that the film will not be part of the festival," claiming that the reason for the decision is "the film’s participation in a large number of international film festivals preceding CIFF," which the festival administration asserted could be "interpreted by some as a sign of disrespect to the festival."
On El-Hadidi's show Tuesday, El-Said restated that the only condition the festival communicated to him was to have the Middle East premiere at CIFF and not take any new invitations to festivals.
“This was an oral agreement they had told me by phone, and I agreed to it and complied by declining invitations from other regional festivals. However the official written invitation doesn’t specify any first screening, and the film was compliant with all the terms written there,” El-Said told El-Hadidi.
He added that it was clear to the organisers that In the Last Days of The City had already been screened at many festivals before, starting with its world premiere at the Berlinale, and that they accepted the film into the competition fully knowing this, and even congratulating him on the film’s success.
CIFF director Magda Wassef joined the conversation with a live phone call.
“We made a mistake in the beginning by accepting it in the competition section. The film is distinctive and has a place in the festival, but outside of the competition,” she said.
“We talked with El-Said on a friendly basis, with no formalities. When we watched the film and liked it we thought to have it out of competition, then we decided to give it a chance.”
She then compared the situation with that of another Egyptian film at CIFF, Kamla Abo Zekri’s A Day For Women. “Her [Abo Zekri’s] film was screened in London once, then we asked them not to further screen it in more festivals so as not to spoil it for CIFF,” she said.
Wassef added that, “In the end, CIFF is not an exclusive festival and that there is no such thing as the only Middle East premiere," to which El-Said noted that what was asked of him and of Abo Zekry indicated otherwise, since they were both requested not to screen their films at other festivals.
Egyptian actress Elham Shahin, a jury member in one of CIFF’s sections and the star in A Day For Women, also called the show on air.
“CIFF told us not to screen A Day For Women in other festivals, and we declined invitations from the Carthage Festival, the Dubai Festival, and Montpelier Festival, and when it was screened in London it was out of competition. This was all to give CIFF its prestige and honor its status among the festivals,” Shahin said, siding with the festival’s stance on disqualifying El-Said’s film.
Wassef stated that CIFF was not aware that In the Last Days of The City was screened in that many festivals, something that when discovered they felt would be unfair to Abo Zekri’s film.
“How can we make an exception for El-Said’s film that we didn’t give to Abu Zekri?” Wassef asked.
Abo Zekri herself also joined the conversation by phone to clarify her current opinion.
She said that, “At the beginning I felt it was unfair that I had to refuse festivals while El-Said’s film was in the same competition and had toured many festivals already. But if I were in El-Said’s place I would be doing the same and fighting for it to stay in competition. If there were terms, the CIFF should have made it clear to him before accepting the film, but they agreed to take the film knowing it was screened internationally.”
Abo Zekri is one of over 300 important cinematic figures who signed a petition, launched recently by the Egyptian filmmakers, for In the Last Days of the City to be re-accepted in competition at CIFF.
Among the signees were directors Khairy Beshara and Ali Badrakhan, media person Reem Maged, director Yousry Nasrallah, director Mohamed Diab, writer Medhat El-Adl and actress Yousra El-Lozy, to name a few.
“I have no problem with the film being in competition, or else I wouldn't have signed the petition. My situation is different, my film has a number of stars and my chances of screening elsewhere are higher. El-Said’s film has no stars, so I think CIFF was an important opportunity for the film,” Abo Zekri said.
El-Hadidi then asked Wassef if a middle ground could be found to settle the situation, especially since many people, including Abo Zekri, fully support that it returns to the competition.
“Since the situation has escalated, we can look into it again. We have a consulting committee that will see what we can do about it. For the competition section, it's difficult, but out of competition there is a possibility,” Wassef said.
Besides the already launched petition, another petition supporting the film's participation in the CIFF has been opened by the journalists. The culture committee of the Journalists' Syndicate also announced a statement in support of the film’s return to CIFF.
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