Last week the Alexandria Short Films Festival (ASFF) concluded its sixth round (26-31 January). A young people’s grassroots initiative founded by Mohamed Mahmoud with Mohamed Saadoun and Mony Mahmoud as president and artistic director, respectively, the annual event is organised through the Arts’ Circle (Dayret Al-Fann) Association.
Compared to previous years, the ASFF received moral support from the Ministry of Culture and the Alexandria governorate. For the first time the opening and closing ceremonies were held at the Sayed Darwish Theatre (Alexandria Opera House), with Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem attending the closing ceremony, while the films were screened at the Alexandria Creativity Centre instead of Ferial Cinema.
This did not mean an increase in budget, however. Both the governor and the minister praised the young people’s efforts and expressed the hope of greater financial support, with Abdel-Dayem saying she wished the process could be replicated in a long film festival.
This year the ASFF honoured four figures: the 1990s’ TV icon Ibrahim Nasr; the prolific short filmmaker Salwa Mohamed Ali; the founder of Minya’s Alwawnat Cultural Association and short film festival Mario Adel; and the founder of the Alexandria-based Fig Leaf Studios production company, director-producer Mark Lotfi. According to Mony Mahmoud, 63 out of nearly 600 submissions were selected: for the main competition (28), the students competition (25) and the official out-of-competition selection (10). They come from Libya, Kuwait, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan as well as Egypt.
The main competition jury brought together Tunisian actress Mariam Al-Ferjani, Syrian-Dutch director and producer Rosh Abdel-Fattah, Egyptian film star Amr Abed, Egyptian film editor Heba Osman and Egyptian film critic Ahmed Shawki. The students competition jury included actors Ingy Wegdan and Jamila Awad and producer Moataz Abdel-Wahab, while the Egyptian Film Critics Association (EFCA) was represented by a jury committee of three film critics: Omnia Adel, Marwa Abu Eish, and Rania Youssef. There was also another jury set up by Baraka One Film Production company to grant three film scripts LE50,000 production award.
The festival opened with the award-winning Tunisian-Moroccan production Houria by Osama Azzi, a short narrative film starring Tunisian actress Fatman bin Saidane about a woman who annually commemorates her husband’s death in a clash with the police. Competition films had their Egyptian premieres at the festival, but the out-of-competition selection included previously screened award-winning films.
According to Mohamed Mahmoud, regardless of venues, the ASFF audience has been growing from year to year, but the support of cultural authorities will give the festival greater credibility enabling it to expand and improve its activities.
Two workshops were held for aspiring filmmakers in Alexandria: “Documentary filmmaking from a narrative film perspective” by media and filmmaking coach Nesma Zaazoo, and “Marketing your film in film festivals” by producer Bahaa Al-Gamal.
Alpine Crow by the Egyptian director Ahmed Dahroug won the best film award in the Student Films Competition, and the film’s cinematographer Hamed Abdel-Tawab received a special mention from the jury. The second award went to The Journey, a documentary by Hisham Abdallah.
In the documentary section of the main competition My Naughty Grandfather by the Egyptian filmmaker Menna Al-Bezzawi won the best film award, while The Pianist by Saudi filmmaker Hassan Maldoh won the second best film award.
In the narrative section, Libyan director Mohannad Al-Amin won the golden award for The Prisoner and the Warden while the award went to A Lighthouse by the Lebanese director Zain Alexander Raw by the Egyptian filmmaker Saif Al-Gaberi received a special mention from the jury.
True Story, a narrative short film by the Tunisian filmmaker Amin Lakhnash won the Egyptian Film Critics Association award.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.