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Slowly but surely, Egypt’s festival scene picks up momentum this year

Egypt's biggest film festivals have taken big leaps this year, with bigger support for developing and producing films

Nahed Nasr , Sunday 30 Dec 2018
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Cairo Opera house from across the Nile (Photo: CIFF)
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In 2018, Egypt’s two biggest festivals — the 40th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), and the second El Gouna Film Festival — paid more attention to financially and technically supporting film projects by aspiring filmmakers through new fund programmes. With sponsor contributions, CIFF’s Cairo Film Connection and the CineGouna Platform spent over $200,000 on supporting 29 films in development and post-production by filmmakers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Sudan and Egypt. 

Two films from Lebanon — Embodied Chorus by Mohamed Sabbah (in development) and 1982 by Oualid Mouaness (in post-production) — won the CineGouna Platform Certificate and a cash award of $15,000 each. Smaller awards went to filmmakers from Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine and Sudan as well as two Egyptians: Ayten Amin for Soad (in development), Mina Nabil for I Am a Script Girl (in post-production).

Ten awards of the Cairo Film Connection went to films from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Syria as well as three from Egypt: Spray by Sherif Al-Bendari, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai by Mohamed Taher, and My Mohamed Is Different by Inas Marzouk. 

Suggesting greater awareness of the necessity of supporting film in Egypt, sponsors and partners who contributed to these awards include Badya Palm Hills, New Century Production, Dollar Film, Aroma Studios, the Cell Post Production, NI Capital, Tayarah, Beelink Productions, IProductions, Synergy Films and Dakhli West Al-Balad. And, reflecting greater desire to play a regional role, the awards’ focus was not Egyptian.

All of which reflects the more contemporary idea of the film festival not just as a screening platform but also an industry prop and opportunity generator. This is especially important to Arab filmmakers who suffer from lack of funding and inadequate technical support.

Though a very young festival, El Gouna started the trend, and was able to increase money and sponsors in its second round. CIFF had launched its initiative in 2010 but it hadn’t been implemented since. Its return this year promises something substantial and stable, however. And well it should in the light of the number of regional film festivals dropping and the concept of industry support all but disappearing. 

The Doha Film Institute is still working as a film fund after the closing of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival (2009-2012), it is true but the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s funding programme Sanad was discontinued after the festival folded in 2015. In May 2018 it was confirmed that the Dubai International Film Festival would henceforth be held once every two years — a shocking decision that left Arab filmmakers wondering about the future of its funding programme, Injaz — still unclear.

The two other major festivals in the region, the International Festival of Carthage and the International Film Festival of Marrakech, have no plans for funding programmes in the foreseeable future. There is cause for optimism regarding Arab film festivals abroad such as the newly established Development Funding programme at the Malmo Arab Film Festival and the Arab Cinema Centre’s newly established film fund programme. 

Aside from film festivals, sizeable regional film funds also remain available as part of broader grant strategies through the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) and the Cultural Resource. But otherwise there are only local state programmes in the Maghreb, temporary and limited cultural institution or embassy support mostly for projects in pre-production, and small, technical or educational support in Lebanon and Jordan. 

The dearth of opportunities available to Arab filmmakers proves the steps taken by CIFF and El Gouna an urgently needed life raft, but the trick is to find the right strategy to make them sustainable. This should involve reviewing regional funds that failed and local festivals that started ambitious funds only to end up abandoning their targets. 

In its second round the Luxor Festival for African Films, for example, announced the ETISAL Fund, worth $100,000, for the production, promotion and distribution of 10 short films by African filmmakers in 2014, adding another programme, Step, to support five projects in post-production by African filmmakers as of 2015. Due to financial challenges, however, in 2018 the festival was only able to support one film, Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala’s You Will Die at Twenty.

Likewise the Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts, which launched the Ismailia Co-Production Platform in 2014 as “the first co-production forum in the MENA region dedicated exclusively to documentaries” with four film projects from Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, and Tunisia receiving nearly $20,000 in addition to technical support. But, once again due to financial pressure, as of 2015 the funding programme was discontinued.

This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly.

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