Ahram Hebdo (AO): After a year of absence, the 35th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) returns. And this time you are its artistic director. How was it that you were selected?
Marianne Khoury (MK):
My participation as the festival's artistic director completely unexpected. I was at the Venice International Film Festival to discuss the creation of a network of distributors in southern Mediterranean countries - an initiative led by the Euromed Audiovisuel in whose Jordan workshop I participated in - when the representative from the culture ministry called me that they wanted me for the position.
I admit I hesitated before accepting. I was running against time, knowing that the festival would begin in three-months time. There was the risk of losing the accreditation of the festival at the The International Federation of Film Producers Associations - a fact which challenged me to complete all the preparations on time.
For the image of Egyptian cinema and Egyptian professionals, it was especially important that the festival takes place. Last year it was canceled due to the country's difficult political situation.
AO: Did your appointment create any professional conflicts?
MK: I would like to underline that I've always been an expert in this kind of festival and yet I have never considered taking part in its artistic management.
Initially, the ministry nominated the Cairo International Film Festival Foundation (CIFFF) headed by Youssef Sherif Rizkallah, and soon after the new government and the Ministry of Culture delegated some of the foundation's responsibilities, since the foundation was from the times of the ousted regime. Such issues create a lot of sensitivities. The task is a challenge and it required double effort to resolve this crisis of trust, as well as the recovery of the festival itself. But we all try to overcome the situation, as, after all, we share the same goal: to make this festival succeed.
When I took over, things were not in the raw state. Some basic organisational work had been done and the selection of films for different categories of the competition categories were at a very advanced stage.
AO: What are the major logistical challenges in this year's festival?
MK: Time is the major challenge, in my opinion. I found myself at the head of the festival three months prior to its opening. As you can see, we work like ants here. We must deal with a lot of technical and administrative work. One of the difficulties encountered quite often is the price of international films that will see their world premiere. We receive the rest of the films free of charge.
AO: What is the recipe for success for the Cairo International Film Festival?
MK: I have said it on many occasions: the success of CIFF is not measured by the quantity of movies but by the public that will take part in it. I always work on outreach and in this sense we need support, maturity and to study the relationship between cinema and audience. We all work hard to make this event accessible to everyone. Once the people watch the movies and participate in the discussions, it will be my success.
Hence I invite you all to attend; it is your presence that makes this festival a success!
AO: Where will the films be screened?
MK: Panorama of the European Film that our company (Misr International Films - Youssef Chahine) manages, takes place in two locations. But for the Cairo International Film Festival, all will be centralised at the Cairo Opera House.
What makes the experience fresh is that this year we have discovered two halls that are very well equipped, but never used. With seven halls already in use, this makes a total of nine - which is great.
I repeat that my main goal is to attract the public. Much has been done about the prices of tickets. They are really symbolic: LE5 (82 cents) for morning screenings and LE10 ($1.60) for evening screenings.
AO: Tells us a bit about this year's films selection.
MK: There will be a total of 170 films, with the participation of Arab and international movies, as it takes place every year.
Moreover, there has always been a keen interest in the emerging African cinema, hence the programme includes screenings of nine films revolving around the daily realities of the African society.
There will be films about the Egyptian revolution. This is the first time the CIFF takes place after the January 25, 2011 revolution and the organising committee dedicated this edition to the revolution's martyrs.
Regarding the competition categories, there will be a special prize for the best film promoting the values of human rights, a category chosen by the foundation headed by Sherif Rizkallah. We kept this prize idea, as it is very appropriate with regard to the current events in the region.