Meet Cairo International Film Festival’s first edition: 1976

Ahram Online , Wednesday 11 Nov 2015

Ahram Online remembers the first Cairo International Film Festival held in 1976.

 Actresses Nadia Lutfi, Nabila Ebeid, Italian diva Claudia Cardinale and Souad Hosny

This story was first published in 2014


As Egypt celebrates the 36th Cairo International Film Festival, Ahram Online remembers the first time it was held.

Actors Nour El-Sherif and Kamal El-Shenawy
Actors Nour El-Sherif (L) and Kamal El-Shenawy (R)

Cinema is deeply rooted in the social history of Egypt, from the first time films were shown in 1896 Alexandria down to the latest Eid movie.

Hence when writer Kamal El-Malakh, head of the Egyptian Cinema Critics Association, thought of holding an international film festival in Cairo, the idea was applauded by the Egyptian cultural scene and the government.

And after a few months of preparation, colourful flags were scattered all over the main streets of the capital and international film stars landed for the first time in Cairo in 1976.

Youssef El-Sebaai
Renowned writer Youssef El-Sebaai handing awards during the closing ceremony, on behalf of Prime Minister

“Hathour, the Ancient Egyptian Goddess of Beauty, is the prize at Egypt’s first International Film Festival (17 to 24 August 1976),” read the headlines of Al-Ahram newspaper on 24 June 1976, describing the shape of the awards. Some 33 countries participated in CIFF with 100 films to screened, 28 of which competed in the main competition, including Japan, Italy, Greece, USA, India, Turkey, Iran and Algeria. An Egyptian film selected in the main competition was Al-Mozneboun (Guilty ones) by Naguib Mahfouz and directed by Saied Marzouk.


 Screening map

The morning screenings were held at the Sheraton hotel, while evening shows were at the Hilton. Public screenings were at Qasr Al-Nil, Lido and Ramses cinemas. However, a selection of films were held at Gezira Sporting Club (the main tennis court with a capacity of 4,000 people) as well as the new cinema located on the old premises of the horse track. As for Alexandria, films were screened at Rialto and San Stefano cinemas.

In an attempt to promote the festival, the organisers lowered ticket prices from 180 piasters to 25 piasters at all cinemas on the CIFF programme.

Claudia Cardinale
Italian cinema diva Claudia Cardinale holding her honorary award

UNESCO presence 

UNESCO participated with three short documentaries featuring Nubia, Philae Island and Carthage.

Actresses Nadia Lutfi, Nabila Ebeid, Italian diva Claudia Cardinale and Souad Hosny
From left to right: Actresses Nadia Lutfi, Nabila Ebeid, Italian diva Claudia Cardinale and Souad Hosny

Middle East presence

On the jury were renowned Pakistani poet and literary figure Faiz Ahmad Faizand, and great Egyptian director Shady Abdel-Salam.

Sudan introduced its first cinematic production: Ors Al Zini (The Wedding of Zeini) directed by Kuwait's Khaled Sediq. United Arab Emirates short film titled The Camel (16 min) produced by Youssef Al-Emeiri and directed by Mohamed Al-Khaldi. As for Saudi Arabia, there was a documentary titled Al-Riad City, directed by Abdalla Abdel-Rahman Maheish.

Samir Sabry
Singer and Actor Samir Sabry performing in the closing ceremony of the festival

Egyptian Panorama

Among films featured off the main competition in the Egyptian Panorama was Egyptian film Sana oula hob (First Grade Love) screened at Ramses cinema.

Sana oula hobwas by renowned journalist Mustapha Amin. The film was directed by Salah Abu Seif, Atef Salem, Niazi Mustapha and Helmy Rafla. The script and dialogue were by Ahmed Saleh and narration by novelist Kamal Al-Sheikh.  Starring Mahmoud Yassin, Naglaa Fathy, Possy, and Adly Kaseb. The film featured the Egyptian revolutions against the Sedki government of the 1930s.

Claudia Cardinale with Samir Sabry
Italian diva Claudia Cardinale with Actor and Singer Samir Sabry

On the side 

One day prior to CIFF, the Egyptian Cinema Critics Association made 30 awards to leading cinema figures, such as actor Nour El-Sherif for his role in El-Karnak, best editing to Rashida Abdel-Salam for her film Hob that el-matar, (Love Under The Rain), and the aspiring young director Steven Spielberg for his latest movie Jaws  

The opening ceremony

17 August 1976 marked the debut of Egypt’s first international film festival. Prime Minister Mamdouh Salem hosted the inauguration at Qasr Al-Nil cinema. The keynote speaker was writer Kamal El-Malakh, followed by an enchanting concert of music by Abdel-Halim Hafez, Shadia and Samir Al-Eskandarani

The awards were as follows :

Best actor went to Egyptian cinema icon Emad Hamdy for his role in Al-Mozneboun (Guilty Ones), best actress to German actress L. Carstern for her role in Lina Braake, and  best director to Bernhard Sinkel for the same film.

Best film went to Italian film The Clowns. Second prize went to Soviet film Kogda Nastupayet Sentyabr (When September Comes) directed by Edmond Keosayan.

Special awards went to Iranian directors of photography Mehrdad Fakhimi and Firooz Malekzadeh for their film  Stranger and the Fog (1976), while the golden prize for best short film went to Iranian film Wooden Pistols (1975) directed by Shapur Gharib.

In addition, honorary awards went to Italian actress Claudia Cardinally and Italian director Alberto Lattuada.

The closing ceremony

The closing night was presented by singers Samir Sabri and Samir Al- Eskandarani who also sang folk songs in multiple languages. In addition, Moroccan singer Aziza Galal (whose voice is very similar to renowned singer Asmahan), held her concert at the Pyramids plateau. Her songs were composed by music icons Kamal Al-Taweel and Mohamed Al-Mougi.

Starting 1977 the festival was to be held twice a year, in February and September.

- Compiled by Amira El-Noshokaty

- Sources: Al–Ahram Newspapers June to August 1976

- All Data Courtesy of Al-Ahram Organisation and Information Technology Centre (Microfilm)

- All Photos courtesy of Al-Ahram digital archive

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