Cairo Film Festival revokes selection of In the Last Days of the City, baffling producers

Ahram Online , Tuesday 25 Oct 2016

The film had its world premiere at the 46th Berlinale where it scooped the Caligari film prize

In the Last Days of the City
Still from In the Last Days of the City (Photo: Courtesy of Zawya Distribution)

The Cairo International Film Festival's administration has reversed its decision to include Egyptian film Akher Ayyam El-Medina (“In the Last Days of the City”) in the international competition of the festival’s upcoming edition, which runs this year between 15 and 24 November.

“When it was first announced that our film, In the Last Days of the City, would be included in this year’s Cairo International Film Festival international competition, we—the filmmaker and distribution team, as well as the crew that has been working relentlessly to bring the film to light for ten years—felt it was a real turning point in the film’s journey,” reads a press release issued by the film's team and Zawya Distribution today, 25 October.

Directed by Egyptian filmmaker Tamer El-Said, the film had its world premiere at the 46th Berlinale where it scooped the Caligari film prize.

“Ever since our world premiere last February…we have eagerly anticipated the moment we could bring our film to Egyptian audiences. Firm in our belief that Cairo is the best place in the Arab region for our film to be released for the first time— being the city that beats at the heart of our film—we have turned down invitations to take part in major film festivals in the Middle East and North Africa.”

“However, we are very sad to announce that CIFF management has reversed its decision to include In the Last Days of the City in the festival’s international competition.”

The story began on Thursday 13 October, when the filmmakers received a letter from the festival’s administration “stating that the film will not be part of the festival, and claiming that the reason for the decision is the film’s participation in a large number of international film festivals preceding CIFF," which the festival administration asserted could be "interpreted by some as a sign of disrespect to the festival."

“We believe that the success our film has achieved internationally is part of what qualified it to be selected by CIFF in the first place, and so we find it strange that the festival’s administration would view it as a sign of disrespect.”

Also, the filmmakers' agreement with the festival "clearly stipulated that the film’s CIFF screening would be its Middle East and North Africa premiere. In no way at all was it required that we refrain from taking part in festivals outside of the region. The administration was aware that the film had been and would be screened in other international festivals before CIFF."

In an attempt to reach a compromise with CIFF and bring the film to the Egyptian audience, the producers said “we managed to reach a middle ground with the administration, which stated that we would not accept any new invitations to screen the film, nor participate in any other festivals before CIFF, except for those we had already agreed to before our selection by CIFF."

"We accepted this compromise, even though we weren't entirely convinced, because we wanted to end the dispute and to continue our preparations for the film’s release in the festival.”

Following the film’s screening at the 60th BFI London Film Festival, “we were shocked to receive the aforementioned letter without any warning,” the statement added.

“Driven by our desire for the film to be seen by audiences in Egypt, we have tried throughout the past week to remind the administration of our agreement, but to no avail.”

As part of their agreement with CIFF, the film's team has been turning down invitations to participate in film festivals across the MENA region.

“Now, as a result of CIFF’s sudden de-selection of the film, and in spite of the global recognition, critical acclaim and international awards it has received, In the Last Days of the City has lost its chance to participate in any film festivals in the MENA region this year, even though this is where the film fundamentally belongs.”

“Finally, we can only continue to work hard to bring In the Last Days of the City to Egyptian screens. No matter how much success we achieve abroad, we will not feel the true worth of our film until it’s screened at home, among its people—the Egyptian audience.”

Co-produced by Zero Production, In the Last Days of the City was co-written by El-Said and Rasha Salti. The film's art director is late artist Salah Marei.

The film stars Khalid Abdalla, Laila Samy and Hanan Youssef. The shooting of the film began in 2008, taking the filmmakers to Cairo, Alexandria, Beirut, Baghdad and Berlin and bringing together many talents from the Arab world.

According to a note about the film released by the Berlinale organisers, Tamer El-Said's feature sees his alter-ego, actor Khalid Abdalla, star as a Cairo-based film-maker struggling to make a film about the city, which is in a state of uproar.

Ever since its world premiere at the Berlinale, the film has screened in a number of festivals, including the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Pesaro Film Festival, the Olhar de Cinema - Curitiba International Film Festival, Malta’s Valletta Film Festival, and the Polish MFF T-Mobile Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix.  

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