The Cannes Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with an exciting as well as politicised lineup of events, films, and talks including stories from and about the restless and culturally rich Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Ahram Online highlights the participation of MENA filmmakers, jury members and programmes to watch out for in the 12-day cinema extravaganza.
In the festival's selection
Three films spearhead Arabic representation in the official Cannes lineup this year.
In the Un Certain Regard section, which features films that fell short of the official selection, Tunisian director Kaouther Ben-Hania’s Aala Kaf Ifrit (Beauty and the Dogs) and Algerian director Karim Moussaoui’s Until the Birds Return will be contenders in a heated list that includes Michel Franco, Sergio Castellitto and other important filmmakers.
Aala Kaf Ifrit follows a Tunisian woman hunting her previous abusers, in a manner that examines gender roles and police brutality in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Until the Birds Return captures the thin lines and collisions between tradition and so-called modernity in contemporary Algeria, following three characters of different genders and positions in that society.
Throughout the years the Un Certain Regard has become known for featuring the festival’s masterpieces, acknowledged for their innovative and aspiring approaches.
Veteran Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof is also returning to the festival with a feature film titled Dregs, which tells the story of a worker in Iran who stands up to an exploitative corporation.
In the Cannes Classic section, which screens the festival’s vintage greats, filmgoers will see Georges Nasser's 1957 film Ila Ayn (Whither?), the first to represent Lebanon at the festival.
The film tells the story of a Lebanese man who leaves his family behind for 20 years, and eventually returns to a different Lebanon.
It is anticipated that immigration will be the center of attention during the festival.
In an interview with Screen Daily, Cannes Film Festival delegate-general Thierry Frémaux said, “When the selection has a political edge, it’s not that the festival is trying to be political; it’s the artists who are being political. Immigration wasn’t really a subject 10 years ago, but today it is. Filmmakers often make films situated in the world in which they live, and that is one of today’s realities.”
Indeed, Vanessa Redgrave’s Sea Sorrow, Kornél Mundruczó’s Jupiter’s Moon, and Michael Haneke’s Happy End all take unorganised immigration as a focal point of their stories.
Competing for Best Short Film is Danish-Palestinian director Mahdi Fleifel, whose film A Drowning Man captures the tale of an unorganised migration to Athens.
German-Turkish director Fatih Akin’s film In the Fade will compete for the festival's highest prize: the Palme d'Or. The film tells a story of vengeance in modern Germany, influenced by conservative Islamists and radical Neo-Nazis.
Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab returns to the festival as a jury member in the Un Certain Regard section, the same section that applauded his film Clash in 2016.
Also on the same jury list is French-Algerian actor Reda Kateb, who returns to Cannes after the premiere of his short film Pitchoune in the Directors' Fortnight section in the 2015 edition.
Events and talks
The Arab Cinema Center (ACC) will hold the first Arab Critics Awards on 21 May in parallel with the festival. The ceremony will grant awards for best film, best director, best scriptwriter, and best actor and actress. Best Film nominees include Eshtebak (Clash, Egypt), Inhebek Hedi (Tunisia) and In the Last Days of the City (Egypt, UAE).
Fitting with the unofficial focus on refugee experiences at the festival, an event will be held on 21 May dubbed Refugee Voices in Film in cooperation with the UNHCR. The event will investigate how the humanitarian issue of immigration is being dealt with on the silver screen.
In the Short Film Corner, which is part of the Cannes Court Metragé, three whole sections will be dedicated to Arab short films: the Lebanon Factory, Shorts from the Dubai International Film Festival and Made in Qatar.
Meanwhile, five films will represent Egypt, all outside the main competition: Mastoura by Mohanad Diab, Sayeda by Nesma Zazou, Madiha by Elfaisal Badr, Photoshop by Soha Samir, and Piece of Wood by Yassein Koptane which was featured in Zawya’s Second Short Film Festival.
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture