Egyptian films from 2016 that will long be remembered

Ahram Online , Wednesday 28 Dec 2016

Ahram Online presents a list of the most celebrated film productions of the past year

2016 films

As 2016 comes quickly to a close, the Ahram Online arts and culture team presents a list of Egyptian film productions that left an imprint on the minds of their ardent audiences and will be remembered for years to come.

Clash: Egypt's official submission to the 2017 Academy Awards

Co-written by Khaled Diab and Mohamed Diab, who also serves as director, Eshtebak (Clash) was released in July and went on to garner critical acclaim in numerous regional and international film festivals.

The film is a co-production between France, Egypt, Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Clash premiered at the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in May. It was also listed by the Hollywood Reporter as one of the 10 best films at the festival.

The film explores — in an unusual manner — the confrontations that erupted between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and the group's opponents after the removal of the former president Mohamed Morsi from power in June 2013.

Most of the film takes place inside an eight-metre-long police truck containing detainees from different social backgrounds and with different political affiliations.

The stars of the movie include Nelly Karim, Tarek Abd El-Aziz, Hany Adel, Ahmed Malek, Ashraf Hamdi, Mohamed Abdel Azim and Gamil Barsoum.

The film recently added two more awards to its extensive list of international prizes, taking the Suwarna Chakoram Prize for Best Film and the Audience Prize Rajata Chakoram at the 21st edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala, India, which ran earlier this month.

The film also scooped four awards at the 27th edition of the Carthage Film Festival and three more at the 61st Valladolid Film Festival in Seminci, Spain.
The film also competed in the 60th BFI London Film Festival and it is Egypt's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards 2017.

Read Adham Youssef’s review of the film here.

(Photo: still from Clash)

In the Last Days of the City: From Berlinare premiere and numerous awards to rejection by the Cairo International Film Festival

Directed by Egyptian filmmaker Tamer El-Said, Akher Ayyam El-Medina 
(In the Last Days of the City), premiered at the Berlinale earlier in February, where it received the Caligari award.

The film scooped numerous other awards, including the Grand Prix at the Polish MFF T-Mobile Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival in Wroclaw, the Grand Prix and the Jury of Youth Best film Award at the Festival des 3 Continents in France, and the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Arab Film Festival in San Francisco.

In the Last Days of the City sees Tamer El-Said’s alter-ego, actor Khalid Abdalla, star as a Cairo-based filmmaker struggling to make a film about the city, which is in a state of uproar. 

Also starring 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. 

Co-produced by Zero Production, the film was written by El-Said and Rasha Salti. The film's art director was late artist Salah Marei.

The film was due to make its Arab World premiere at the 38th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) last November. However, the festival administration revoked its selection of the film weeks before the festival’s inauguration, attributing the decision to "the film’s participation in a large number of international film festivals preceding CIFF," which the festival organisers asserted could be "interpreted by some as a sign of disrespect to the festival."

In the Last Days of the City
(Photo: still from In the Last Days of the City)

A Present from the Past: An original approach to cinematography from a fresh graduate

A Present from the Past (or 20 September), the first feature-length documentary by young Egyptian filmmaker Kawthar Younis, garnered huge success following its screening at Zawya, Cairo's art-house cinema, earlier this month.

Shot on hidden cameras, the film centers on Younis’ father, who receives a present from his daughter to travel to Italy in search of his former love, and who for the duration of the production did not know he was being filmed.

The film, Nahed Nasr writes in a recent article on Ahram Online, captures “the relationship between a daughter and a father” in as much as it is “an ode to the unfulfilled dream of a man who is to meet his old love.”

The documentary is Younis’s graduation project from the High Institute of Cinema in Cairo, and was screened at the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) last November.

Speaking to Nahed Nasr, Younis said the film, “was a very personal story. I didn’t think about creating a beautiful picture, but rather to capture the feelings of my father.”

“Anyone can make a beautiful picture if he studies the rules of how to make a good composition. I wanted to film the emotion,” she added.

Read Nahed Nasr’s interview with Egyptian filmmaker Kawthar Younis here.

A Present from the Past
(Photo: still from A Present from the Past)

Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim: A sparkling success for the first-time film actor

Directed by Egyptian filmmaker Sherif El-Bendary, Ali, Mea'za and Ibrahim (Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim) made its world premiere at the 13th Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), earning Egyptian actor Ali Sobhy the Muhr feature award for his role in the film.

The film was scripted by Ahmed Amer and is based on a story by Ibrahim El-Batout. Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim is produced by Mohamed Hefzy's Fortress Film Clinic and Hossam Elouan’s Transit Films.

The film centres on a man who believes that his dead girlfriend has been reincarnated as a goat, which he names Nada.

At the healer’s clinic, Ali meets Ibrahim, and they are both diagnosed as being cursed.

When the healer prescribes a solution to break the spell, it sets them off on an adventure that takes them to the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Nile.

The film also stars Ahmed Magdy, Salwa Mohamed Ali and Nahed El-Sebaee.

During its production phase, Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim scooped three financial awards at the Final Cut Venice workshop and the ARTE prize in Dubai.

This is the debut feature film for Sherif El-Bendary, who also released a debut short film Har Gaf Sayfan (Dry, Hot Summers), in 2016.

Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim
(Photo: still from Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim)

Nawara: An avalanche of awards and the 'role of a lifetime'

Egyptian social drama Nawara, a film directed and scripted by veteran filmmaker Hala Khalil, made its Arab-World premiere at the 12th Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in December 2015, earning actress Menna Shalaby the award for Best Actress.

Nawara was released in mainstream Egyptian cinemas on 23 March, following its Egypt premiere at the opening of the 5th edition of the Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF), which ran this year between 17 and 23 March.

The film was produced by Red Star, a film-production company headed by Safy El-Din Mahmoud.

Alongside Shalaby, the film stars Mahmoud Hemeda, Sherine Reda, Ahmed Rateb and Amir Salah Eddin.

The story takes place on the eve of the 2011 uprising, and centres on Nawara, a woman in her twenties who works as a housemaid at a big villa in a luxury compound. As the owners flee the politically unstable country, she invites her fiancé over, and together they enjoy a taste of the life of the rich and famous.

In an interview on Sahebah El-Saada television program on CBC channel, presented by Esaad Younes earlier this year, Shalaby described her role in Nawara as the role of her lifetime and one of the most important artistic endeavors of her career.

“I liked it so much that it took me just 90 minutes to read through it [the script],” Shalaby said on the programme, adding that she immediately called Khalil to accept the role, and even offered to produce it herself, before producer Safy El-Din Mahmoud eventually did.

That the film was “produced five years after the 2011 uprising,” writes Adham Youssef in an article on Ahram Online, “shouldn’t be seen as a revolutionary pamphlet that is propagating class conflict between the proletariat, who lack the necessities of life, including water, and the bourgeoisie, who enjoy clean water in specially designed pools.”

“Rather, it should be seen as an attempt to pose question marks about an unstable and controversial epoch of Egyptian history,” he said.

(Photo: still from Nawara)

Hepta: The big box-office success

Based on a novel with the same title, and adapted for the screen by Wael Hamdy, Hepta: The Last Lecture was a big box-office success upon its release in Egyptian cinemas in April 2016, surpassing EGP 27 million in revenue, and becoming the highest-grossing romantic film in the history of Egyptian cinema.

The film is directed by Hadi El-Bagoury, whose previous major works include Wahed Saheeh (2011) and the thriller Warda (2014).

It stars a number of prominent Egyptian actors, including Maged El-Kedwany, Ahmed Malek, Ahmed Dawood, Dina El-Sherbiny, Yasmine Raeis, Jamila Awad, Amr Youssef, Hany Adel, Ahmed Bedeir, Salwa Mohamed Aly, Kinda Alloush, as well as singer-actress Anoushka.

Hepta – which means seven in Greek – takes the audience on a journey to the worn-out world of love, where a social-psychologist traces the seven stages of the emotion: the beginning, the encounter, the relationship bond, the wakefulness, the truth, which is followed by the decision, and then the ending, or the Hepta stage. It blends four different love stories that experience the different stages between crises and pleasure.

Following its premiere in Egypt, Hepta was released in other Arab countries – UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman – last May.

The film recently competed for the Best Feature Film Award at the 6th Malmo Arab Film Festival in Sweden, held this year between 30 September and 5 October. It also participated in the Anab d'Or in the Feature Film Competition at the 2nd Mediterranean Film Festival of Annaba (FAFM) in Algeria, and screened at the Arab Camera Festival in Rotterdam. It scooped numerous awards including the Audience Award at the 21st Annual Arabian Sights Film Festival in Washington, which ran this year between 21 and 30 October.

(Photo: still from Hepta)

We are Egyptian Armenians: An important document of Egypt's history and people

Directed by Waheed Sobhi, We Are Egyptian Armenians relays the history of the Armenian community in Egypt as recounted by many of its members and supported with archival materials, including photos, videos and paintings.

The documentary, created in cooperation with scriptwriter Eva Dadrian and researcher and executive producer Hannan Ezzat, was screened at the 38th Cairo International Film Festival last November.

It also participated in the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam and the Karama Human Rights Film Festival in Jordan. The film is set to be screened in Egypt, the US and Canada.

In a recent interview with Nahed Nasr, Sobhi said the story had started as early as 2014, when he met Waheed Sobhi and Hanan Ezzat who were then working on a film about the late prominent Armenian-Egyptian photographer Van Leo (1921-2002).

“Not much later, Waheed returned and said [that the story] is much bigger than introducing one photographer. I am overwhelmed by the stories I hear. I want to introduce the Armenian community in Egypt,” Sobhi explained.

“As I started looking into Van Leo and the Armenian community, I found out that we have 150 years [of history of Egyptian Armenians] that we know nothing about. I learned about many talented Armenians who contributed to every field in Egypt. This film became a personal trip to discover and to let other people discover. It is about a forgotten part of our history, and an unseen part of our present,” he added.

Read Ahram Online’s interview with the film’s creators here.

We are Egyptian Armenians
(Photo: fragment from the poster of the documentary We Are Egyptian Armenians)

A Footnote in Ballet History: Remembering the birth of Egypt's ballet and its superstar

Directed by Hisham Abdel Khaleq, the film premiered in November 2016 at the Cairo International Film Festival and is yet to be screened across the world.

According to the brief published by the IMDB, the film presents "the establishment of the art of classical ballet in Egypt under the auspices of the state during the Cold War is at the heart of an extraordinary saga."

The film stars Egypt's prima ballerina of the time: Magda Saleh, a graduate of the Bolshoi Academy of Ballet in Moscow and Cairo's Academy of Arts in Egypt, and former dean of the Higher Institute of Ballet; as well as a founding director of the New Cairo Opera House (-1988). It also features other renowned ballet dancers such as Diane Hakak, Aleya Abdel Razek, among others.

The film will head to Bangladesh, where it will be screened in the Dhaka International Film Festival

Read our interview with prima ballerina and the film's protagonist Magda Saleh

 A Footnote in Ballet History)
(Photo: still from the documentary A Footnote in Ballet History)

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