Luxor Film Festival to highlight best of Egyptian and European cinema

Rowan El Shimi, Friday 7 Sep 2012

Film festival in historic city of Luxor comes amid concerns that Islamists will impose restrictions on freedom of expression following their success in recent parliamentary and presidential elections

Panel at Luxor Film Festival Press Conference (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The first Luxor Egyptian and European Film Festival on 17-22 September is a collaboration between the Noon Foundation for Culture and Art, various governmental bodies and other supporters and sponsors from Egypt's culture and tourism scene.

“This is the result of two years work,” Gamal Zayda, secretary general of Noon Foundation, said at the festival’s press conference.

“The festival aims to foster cultural dialogue between Egypt and Europe,” Dr Mohamed El-Kaliouby, president of Noon Foundation, said. “We chose Luxor because it is the historic capital of the world, a city that has a magical element.”

“This festival is an opportunity for locals to discover other cultures in Europe that we are not familiar with," Dr Magda Wassef, president of the Luxor Film Festival, stated.

The festival features several Egyptian films in addition to films from the United Kingdom, Germany, Serbia, Greece, Finland, Estonia, Portugal, France, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Belgium, Russia, Holland, Ireland, Switzerland and Romania.

During the five-day festival a number of activities are on the horizon: a feature films competition, a short films competition, screenings of Egyptian films shot in Luxor, a special tribute to British cinema and several symposiums on cinema-related topics.

The Feature Films Competition includes After the Battle (Egypt), Barbara (Germany), Fish n’ Chips (Greece), Graveyard Keeper’s Daughter (Estonia), Journey to Portugal (Portugal), The Bear (Romania), The Box (Serbia), The Good Son (Finland), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (France) and Wilaya (Spain).

The jury for the competition includes a selection of Egyptian and European journalists, directors and producers. The awards are the gold, silver and bronze DJED pillars.

“The DJED pillar is the backbone of Osiris, which is a symbol of protection,” Dr Mohamed Ibrahim, antiquities minister, explained. “It is also a symbol resurrection to represent the new renaissance of Egyptian society after the revolution.”

The Ministry of Antiquities allowed the Temples of Luxor and Karnak to be used for the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival. Not only that, but for the duration of the festival, local and international visitors can visit the Luxor antiquities for free.

The Feature Film Competition of the festival will kick off on 18 September with a screening of After the Battle by Yosry Nasrallah, the film that brought Egypt to the Cannes Film Festival this year. The Luxor Festival will mark its first screening to an Egyptian audience.

The festival is paying special tribute to British cinema. The festival will honour producer Paul Webster and his most recent film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, will be open the festival. The film includes a supporting role by Egyptian actor Amr Waked. Several other iconic recent British films will also be screened.

The festival will also be paying tribute to Egyptian actor Ahmed Helmy for his contribution to Egyptian comedy, along with author Bahaa Taher, a native of Luxor, who is the festival’s guest of honour.

Taher shared his excitement at Luxor becoming a cultural hub in light of the efforts to bring cinema, his childhood passion, to the city through this festival and the African Short Film Festival that took place in Luxor earlier this year.

One of the unique elements of the festival is the Open Air Programme. In an attempt to bring back the old cultural habit of open air cinema, which used to be the most common type of cinema hall in Egypt during the 50s and 60s, especially in the summer, the festival is having an open air programme which will be screening 35mm films that were shot in or are related to Luxor.

The films screened will be: Sera’ Fi El-Wadi (Struggle in the River) by Youssef Chahine, Gharab fi El-Karnak (Passion in the Karnak) by Ali Reda, Thalatha Ala El-Tariq (Three on the Road) by Mohamed Kamel El-Kaliouby, Waraqet Shafra (Paper Code) by Amir Ramsis and X-Large by Sherif Arafa.

The festival will also serve as a unique opportunity for many different artists, filmmakers and cinema lovers to meet, so it is only natural that part of the extensive programme is a series of symposiums. The roundtable discussions will revolve around the following topics: British cinema, literary adaptation in cinema, shooting in Luxor and Egypt, short film production, and the hottest topic on the table in Egyptian culture now: freedom of expression in Egypt.

The festival comes in the midst of ongoing criticism, insult and attack on Egyptian filmmakers and actors. Over the past months, there have been many cases of Islamist preachers, lawyers and religious figures who have taken a strong stance against artists. Some have called for limits on freedom of creative expression, calls that most artists do not want in post-revolution Egypt.

“Everyone taking part in the Luxor Film Festival is fighting for freedom of expression and creativity,” Taher confirmed, stressing that part of this is to keep working and giving more opportunities for people to be exposed to art.

Minister of Tourism Hesham Zaazou said tourism is directly related to culture, hence the ministry’s eagerness to support this project. “We need to present positive messages on the state of security in Egypt through these types of events, making a campaign to tell people Egypt is safer now," the minister said.

The Ministry of Tourism supported the festival with LE600,000 despite its budget difficulties. The Ministry of Culture in turn supported the festival with LE650,000, along with printing all the materials and paying the accommodation of the filmmakers and actors. The Luxor Governorate also gave the festival a lot of support, according to the organisers, by offering venues, such as the Culture Palace, Youth Centre and Conference Hall, as screening spaces.

Collaboration between the difference sectors of the state will hopefully help bring cinema to more corners of Egypt.

The opening and closing ceremonies will be aired live on Nile Cinema. Ahram Online will also be covering the festival through our correspondent in Luxor.

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