French film festival’s moving films

Menna Taher, Thursday 21 Apr 2011

The film festival, Rencontres de l’image at the French Cultural Centre included a vast number of fascinating short films, documentaries and animations, two of whom, will go on to film fests in Montpellier and Marseille

Ahmar Bahet (Pale Red)

The series kicked off with Khaled El Hagar’s dark and gritty El Shouq that reveals the life of residents in a narrow alleyway in Alexandria.

A large part of the discussion went to, as it often happens, unconstructive questions not relating to the film’s technicalities, theme or ideas, such as “why does the film have to be so dark?”

Though the series in previous years featured animated films, this year showed a larger number since this year marks the 75th anniversary of the first screening of an animated film in Egypt. On 18 April several short, very primitive black and white animations were screened. They were commercials for products, short humorous sketches, or propaganda to donate for the state defence ministry in 1939 made by the Frenkel brothers.

Following the screenings of these short animations Mohamed Ghazaly, a professor of art in animated films department, recounted the Frenkel borthers’ history and discussed the state of animated films in Egypt.

The Frenkel Brothers family business was carpentry and book binding. They were immigrants from Byelorussia to Egypt. Their interest in animations began when Walt Disney pioneered animations. When the brothers first presented the idea of making animations to a local producer he answered in Arabic “fil mesh mesh,” which is a slang expression that means, in essence, "forget about it." This later led to the creation of the first animated character in Egypt: Mesh Mesh Effendi.
The family later moved to France where the films were retrieved by their grandson who sent them to Egypt.

Several contemporary animated films were screened, including the Oscar-winning short animation Logorama and the Palme D’or winner, Chienne D’Histoire.

The satirical Logorama puts a magnifying lens on the commercialism that has befallen American culture, as it features all the well-known icons and figures on different products but in one world. There was include the moustached men from Pringles, the white, buff Michelin men, the Haribo kids and several other identifiable characters that makes the viewer laugh. As their world collapses in the end, it only shows the frailty of this corporate reality.

Chienne de L’Histoire directed by the Armenian filmmaker Serge Avedikian brings in a wrenching story from Constantinople in 1910, when the government planned to dispose of all its stray dogs.

Interesting films in the short film series included Mohamed Hammad’s Ahmar Bahet (Pale Red), which won the prize for best short film in the festival. Ahmar Bahet explores the coming of age of an Egyptian girl, who lives alone with her grandmother. Through beautiful shots it subtly discusses a girl’s emergence into adulthood through the process of buying a set of womanly lingerie.

Nadaret Shams (Sunglasses) by El Zanakhrashy and Iskandar (Alexander) by Ramy El Gabry, both emitted genuine feelings of simple childhood dreams, while rendering the outcast state that some children experience.

Nadaret Shams follows a young boy, who works as a garbage collector and is bullied by other children. His daily struggles find solace when he looks at the sun through sunglasses to capture it between his fingers. Though the film’s duration could’ve been compressed for a more powerful effect, the film still captured unadulterated emotions. The music in the film was also too melodramatic, at times overshadowing those genuine feelings.

In Iskandar, a young boy suffers from a disability that doesn’t allow him to play with other children during recess. The film shows the young boy’s determination and how he tries to ride a bike.

Dina Hamza’s documentary Dakhel, Khareg El Ghorfa (In and out of the room), the best documentary film winner, was also one of the highlights of the series and reaped positive reactions from the audience. Hamza follows the life of a hitman, showing his humane side.

Two documentaries were also screened on 19 April, The Burning of the Cairo Opera House by Kamal Abdel Aziz and Zelal by Marianne Khoury and Mustapha Hasnaoui.

Abdel Aziz’s film captured what the old opera house meant to opera singers, ballet dancers, conductors and employees of the opera house and how its burning pained them.

In the discussion that followed Abdel Aziz explained that footage he has of the opera house burning is the only video footage of that incident and told the audience that it was no easy feat acquiring it, since its owner initially wanted to sell it for a million pounds.

Zelal (Shadows), the winner of the International Federation of Film Critics (PRESCI) at the Dubai Film festival, shows the reality inside Egyptian mental intuitions. The film, however, is surrounded by controversies. As some filmmakers and critics highly commend it, others believe it is unethical because, in their view, some of the footage puts the patients in demeaning positions.

The series concluded on 20 April with Ahmed Abdalla’s Microphone, the winner of four awards, including the most recent Golden Tulip at the Istanbul film festival.

The awards were then announced by the jury members Solange Poulet, the head of the cinema project in Marseille in 2013, and filmmakers and producers Marwan Hamed and Hala Galal.  
The jury prize was given to Noskha Shaabeya (A Popular Copy) by Islam Kamal. The film follows four youth in Alexandria, two guys and two girls, while capturing different neighbourhoods and shop windows in Alexandria.

Other wins include Hadeel Nazmy’s Gamal and Amany, a documentary-like feature film of a wedding. Goa we Barra (Inside and Outside) by Mahmoud El-Masry won the best animated film.

As a prize, Mohamed Hammad and Dina Hamza will go on to participate in the Montpellier and Marseille film festivals, respectively.

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