Egyptian director Sameh Alaa wins Cannes' Palme d'Or for his short film

Eslam Omar , Friday 30 Oct 2020

Dozens of critics and filmmakers congratulated Alaa on his big victory

Sameh Alaa
Egyptian director Sameh Alaa (Photo: Courtesy of Festival de Cannes Facebook page)

"Congratulations to Egyptian director Sameh Alaa won the Palme d'Or for his short film I’m Afraid to Forget Your Face," the Cannes Film Festival’s official account tweeted on Thursday evening.

"Alhamdulillah! We worked hard and God rewarded us," the film's star Seif Eldein Hemeida told Ahram Online on Friday, adding, "Inshallah tomorrow will be sweeter and we will continue making films for the rest of our lives."

Dozens of critics and filmmakers joined in the public congratulations at the success of the short film, which is also known as Sttashar.

"This is a victory of Egyptian cinema that has never happened in its history," wrote celebrated film critic Mohamed Sayed AbdelRehim.

The 15-minute production by Alexandria-based Figleaf Studios, in collaboration with France’s Les Cigognes Films, was celebrated Sunday at its MENA premiere in Hurghada, as part of the El Gouna Film Festival, which concludes tonight.

Earlier this month, the film won the first special mention at the Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur of Belgium and the Silver St. George at the Moscow International Film Festival, as well as an honourable representation at Spain's San Sebastian Film Festival.

Distributed by Square Eyes Film, Sttashar's plot follows Hemeida’s Adam on a tough journey to reunite with his lover, portrayed by Nourhan Ahmed, after 82 days of separation.

The crew also includes producers Mark Lotfy, Ahmed Pachaa, Ahmed Zayan and Mohab Shehab Eldin, cinematographer Giorgos Valsamis, art director Shaimaa Magdy, editor Yasser Azmy, sound designer Moataz Al-Qammari, and assistant directors Omar El-Halawany, Menna Eldiaby, Abdel-Rahman Shafik and Ahmed Mahmoud.

"You can imagine my feeling -- very excited," the Belgium-based director told Ahram Online earlier this month about the thrilling times that will continue as his upcoming first long feature film I Can Hear Your Voice… Still was shortlisted for the Cairo Film Connection’s seventh edition, part of the 42nd edition of Cairo International Film Festival, which takes place next month.

Alaa, who studied German literature and filmmaking techniques at the Academy of Cinema Arts and Technology, had worked as an assistant director on various commercials and feature films before moving to Europe in 2012. There he studied directing at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) in Prague before moving to Paris for a master’s at the International Film School of Paris (EICAR).

In July, Alaa celebrated the online broadcasting of his acclaimed 2019 short film Khamastashar (“Fifteen”).

At Cannes, Alaa’s short film was shortlisted with 11 important films in the competition, selected by a prestigious jury of three women and three men, and with no chair for the first time. It included French filmmakers Claire Burger and Rachid Bouchareb, producer Charles Gillibert, actors Damien Bonnard and Céline Sallette, and Georgian filmmaker Dea Kulumbegashvili.

The competition concluded the three-day Cannes 2020 special event, after the 73rd edition of the famous festival was cancelled earlier this year due to the coronavirus. This was the competition’s second cancellation since 1939.

Despite the cancellation, Egypt is also represented by Souad, a 1h 30m long narrative from Vivid Reels by director Ayten Amin, after it was unveiled in June among 56 films of the Cannes Film Festival's Official Selection.

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