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Luxor African Film Festival: Against all odds

The festival was among the last cultural activities held in Egypt before the shutdown of artistic events involving large gatherings

Hani Mustafa , Tuesday 17 Mar 2020
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The ninth Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) closed on 11 March over a day ahead of schedule as LAFF president screenwriter Sayed Fouad and LAFF director filmmaker Azza Al-Houseiny announced the names of the competition winners in a press conference with no closing ceremony.

In response to the global Covid 19 pandemic, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly had decreed that activities involving large gatherings should be cancelled across the country when changes took place at the event. Starting on Monday evening, screenings were discontinued except for private jury screenings – with the result that Ahmad Rashawan’s competition entry Fragile was not screened at all, and the administration declared it out of the festival in order to make it possible for it to have its world premiere elsewhere.

Most of the films screened at LAFF were, if not outstanding, then interesting, but the most impressive among them were on political conflicts. In the Burkinabe documentary Time Is On Our Side by Katy Lena N’Diaye, for example, the filmmaker follows Serge Bambora (aka Smokey), a rapper and political activist who was part of the uprising against the 27-year rule of President Blaise Compaoré in October 2014.

The structure of the film, relying on interviews with the artist in many locations and at different times during the uprising, is very simple. But the filmmaker manages to turn these interviews into casual encounters at the artist’s home, backstage before a concert, and at a demonstrations. The camera illustrates the rapper’s enthusiasm as he explains his ideas about political change in his country. N’Diaye also provides information on the recent history of Burkina Faso when the rapper refers to the early days of Marxist and pan-Africanist president Thomas Sankara, who was in power from 1983 to 1987 when he was assassinated during a coup d’état led by Compaoré.

1
Fataria


The Tunisian long narrative Fataria by Walid Tayae too is based on a historic event: the Arab Summit in Tunis in 2004. In Tunisian dialect the title of the film means “chaos”, and the script consists of four unrelated storylines unfolding simultaneously against the backdrop of that event. With its sometimes fantastical exaggerations targeting both society and government and its humour, this is satire at its best. The first story concerns an old man having trouble booking an appointment with a cardiologist at a public hospital because of bureaucratic corruption.  

The second – more exaggerated and revealing in a symbolic way – concerns a middle-aged woman in an early 20th-century building who asks an electrician to fix the electricity in her apartment only to be told that the whole building’s wiring has been jammed for a very long time. The woman, evidently lonely, tries to keep the electrician there for as long as possible. In the third story, two young dancers and their choreographer are interrupted by a parvenu announcing he has bought not only the ground-floor theatre but the whole building.

The fourth story is about a lower-class woman who works as both a funerary mourner and wedding performer, and also uses her house to sell illegal drugs and liquor. Here as elsewhere the strength of the film derives from the peculiarity of the characters themselves, not simply on the satirical situation in which they’ve ended up. All of the four situations end with the involvement of the police, and in the final scene all four characters can be seen together in the same police truck, having been arrested, while the radio anchor can be heard discussing the Arab Summit.

2
Habib


The Egyptian short film Habib directed by Shady Fouad seems to focus on a psychological rather than a political situation. It is the story of an old barber, Habib (Sayed Ragab), who works in a very poor district. His shop is part of his small flat. The filmmaker stresses the humorous nature of the character to show his joi de vivre. He has a wonderful relationship with his customers, and will occasionally leave them mid-haircut to check on his wife (Salwa Mohamed Ali) in the living room. The drama peaks when he decides to take a wedding photo with his wife wearing her wedding dress and him the a new expensive wedding suit. Only then does the film reveal that his wife died a long time ago. Though the narrative is simple and predictable, the acting is outstanding.

***

The LAFF results were as follows:

In the Diaspora Competition, the well-known Afghani filmmaker Atiq Rahimi was awarded the best artistic achievement award for his narrative feature Our Lady of the Nile, about violence in 1990s Rwanda. The Senegalese film Nafi’s Father directed by Mamadou Dia was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize. The Algerian film Papicha by Mounia Meddour was awarded the Jury Prize. The Nile Grand Prize for Best Film went to Train of Salt and Sugar by Licinio Azivedo.

In the Short Films Competition, the Egyptian film Habib directed by Shady Fouad won a special mention for the acting performance. The Morrocan film Ghost of Spacetime by Karim Tajouat won the Best Artistic Achievement Award. The jury prize was given to Rasta by Samir Ben Sheikh, while the Grand Nile Prize for Best Short Film went to Bablinga by Fabian Dao.

3
Time Is On Our Side


In the long documentary category, Mother, I’m Suffocating, This is My Last Film About You directed by Jeremiah Moses won both the best artistic contribution award and the jury award. The Nile Grand Prize for Best Documentary went to the Senegalese film Time is on Our Side by Katy Lena N’Diaye.

In the long narrative competition, a special mention was given to The White Line directed by Desirée Kahikopo from Namibia. Desrances by Apolline Traouré from Burkina Faso and Côte d’ivoire won the best artistic contribution award. The Tunsian film Fataria by Walid Tayae won the Jury Award, while the Nile Grand Award for Best Long Narrative Film went to the Senegalese film Atlantics directed by Mati Diop.

The Radwan El Kashef Award, presented by the Independent Shabab Foundation, which organises the Luxor African Film Festival, was given to Wonder Box by Emad Elbahat.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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