French Institute film festival awards four filmmakers in closing ceremony

Rowan El Shimi, Tuesday 16 Apr 2013

The ninth edition of 'Rencontre de l'image' closes Monday night awarding several young filmmakers and showcasing the winning films to a small audience

French Institute Film Festival Winners and Jury
'Rencontre de l'image' film festival winners, jury and organisers (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

On Monday, the French institute in Mounira, Cairo, hosted the closing ceremony of 'Rencontre de l'image' film festival, which showcased shorts, features and documentaries by young filmmakers.

The jury, composed of directors Ahmed Abdallah, Ahmed Fawzy Saleh and screenwriter Mariam Nawaem presented the awards to the young filmmakers.

"The awards for this year will only be for short films and documentaries," Abdallah told the audience on stage, stressing their support for young filmmakers in general with a special mention of the outstanding work by Alexandrian filmmakers "who are away from the centralisation of filmmaking" in Cairo.

Best Documentary Short went to Mamnoo El-Ekterab Aw El-Tasweer (Censored Love) by May El-Hossamy. In this film, El-Hossamy brings her family members and others in front of the camera to discuss love, marriage and relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egyptian society.

Her subjects appear completely at ease, sitting comfortably engaging in conversation with her behind the cameras, creating a sense of familiarity with the audience that makes one feel like they are old friends.

The film ends on an ambiguous note, after El-Hossamy reaches a dead-end with her search for answers to why there can't be love and marriage between the two religions. In silhouette, she sits, with someone who seems to be her lover, on different sides of a couch, wondering why even though Muslims and Christians share the belief in one god, it is so impossible to have an interdenominational marriage or family.

The Best Short Film award was awarded to Alban Wadi El-Nil (Wadi El-Nil Milk Store) by Mohamed El-Hadidi from Alexandria.

The film is shot between night time and dusk. The cinematography by Islam Kamal is worthy of mention. With little dialogue, the film depends on its imagery to portray the emotion of heartbreak the protagonist feels towards his ex-girlfriend, and perhaps women in general at that moment.

The film is powerful as it takes the viewer into a series of surreal images including an old man pressing a suit in the middle of the street, a drummer on his own with his set in different locations in Alexandria, and finally a collection of men in suits waiting to be served milk in complete silence.

Besides the two winners, the jury also awarded Islam Kamal a special award for outstanding cinematography for the film Zakaria to attend the Mediterranean Film Festival in Montpelier. The award was presented by Mohamed Hefzy, producer and founder of Film Clinic, the company which produced Ahmed Abdalla's award-winning film Microphone (2010).

The jury also gave the Special Jury Award to young filmmaker Alia Ayman for her self-portrait Cartharsis where she turns the camera on to herself during her three-months film study in New York and explores the identity crisis she, along with others of her background, face being stuck between East and West, with even the film itself being bilingual.

"I decided to make this film in Arabic and English, because that's how I talk," Ayman says in the film.

The director discovers this notion by unveiling the multi-layers that exist within this complex. Ayman brings into question her academic background of her studies at the American University in Cairo, where she took a class that helped her discover the term "cultural imperialism" which then helped her understand the hybrid that she is.

She also dived into the relationship that she has with her family, who are conservative, and her concern about what they would think when they saw the film where she is discussing some taboos and breaking them at the same time.

Ayman concludes that these inhibitions she has are out of respect, not fear, explaining that in spite of their differences and the contradicting expectations her family had for her, they share a strong bond of love and understanding.

Finally, the jury presented Hanan Abdallah with the audience choice award for her film Zel Ragol (In the Shadow of a Man), a feature documentary where the director interviews women from different backgrounds on their lives, marriage, divorce, the role of women in society and the Egyptian revolution.

The film follows the stories of four women: Badreya from Upper Egypt; Suzanne from Cairo; Shahenda, a political activist and farmers' unionist; and Wafaa, a particularly well-travelled housekeeper from Cairo.

The director succeeds in getting the audience to really form a relationship with these women, their trials and tribulations, and their stories which show the array of women that exist within the layers of Egyptian society. The audience responded very positively to the one-hour documentary, laughing, listening intently and even crying.

The jury made a suggestion to the French Institute to host seminars, exchanges and trainings on sound engineering in films, an issue which the jury saw recurring in many of the films presented, which compromised the quality of the works.

Overall, the festival showcased an array of talent from the Egyptian independent art scene, and it is to be hoped that more of these festivals pop up at various times of the year to allow audiences a chance to view these works and engage with the filmmakers.

This article has been updated on 23 April.

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