The seventh Alexandria Short Film Festival (ASFF, 5-10 April) showed how cultural initiatives outside Cairo can grow and gain in credibility and popularity. The centrality of the capital to cultural life is oppressive, and even events that take place in other governorates are often managed by Cairo dwellers.
Not so with ASFF, whose honorary president, the celebrated producer Mohammed El Adl, says it is worth supporting because it was started and is still managed entirely by innovative young people from Alexandria: “This is one of the reasons why we should support this festival and do our best for it to continue and to improve.” For his part, ASFF cofounder and president Mohammed Mahmoud stresses the festival’s role as “an opportunity for the local community to see a different kind of cinema from all over the Arab world”.
In addition to the fiction and documentary competitions, this year the festival has added an animation competition. There is also a student film competition for Egyptians.
There were two honorary awards. One went to Egyptian actor Basem Samra, who made his debut in Youssef Chahine’s 1991 short film Cairo Shinning With its People and continued to take part in short films such as Ahmed Hassounah’s 2002 Rounded Square and Islam Al-Azzazy’s 2006 Day and Night after he became an established and award-winning actor. In his opening ceremony speech Samra said he felt lucky to have worked with short film directors Marwan Hamed and Sherif Al-Bendary who believed in his talent and would go on to become renowned filmmakers.
The second honorary award went to the Alexandrian filmmaker and producer Dina Abdel-Salam, whose films include This Is not a Pipe (2010), Rest in Peace (2014), Girls of Feather (2016), and Mesteka Wa Rehan (2016). Abdel-Salam who also teaches literature and film studies at the Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University, produced all her films which though low-budget productions, all made it to Egyptian and international film festival and won awards.
One jury including filmmaker Omar Abdel Aziz, actress Rasha Mahdy,and costume designer Reem El Adl judges the fiction (18 films) and documentary (eight films) competitions. Another, with director Ashraf Madhdi, film critic Arwa Tag Al-Deen and screenwriter Larry Nabil, judges animation (nine films) and student films (eight films).
The lineup included work from Palestine, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, the UAE, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya, Iraq and Yemen as well as Egypt. With the opening and closing ceremonies held at the open-air Mohamed Abdelwahab Theatre, creenings took place at Alexandria’s Freedom Centre for Creativity, with each film screened in three different halls to ensure plenty of space between viewers as protection from the pandemic.
ASFF dates were announced at the last minute, after Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly approved art and culture activities at 50 per capacity. But ASFF was as popular as ever.
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The Golden Hypatia for best fiction film went to An Ordinary Day by the Syrian filmmaker Anas Zawahry. The film follows an ordinary day in the life of a Syrian taxi driver, whose own tragic life comes through in his interaction with passengers from different social classes.
The Silver Hypatia for the best fiction film went to Tuk-tuk by the Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Khedr, which premiered at ASFF. It tells the story of Walaa, a single mother trying to earn her bread driving a tuk-tuk while her ex-husband attempts to cross the Mediterranean illegally.
A special mention went to Algerian director Reda Siddiqui for the screenplay of Cyrano, written by him and co-directed with Salah Esad. The film deals with Western clothing prejudices. Another special mention went to the Egyptian cinematographer Muhammad Shawn for May Twenty Seventh of This Year directed by Mustafa Murad. The film is the journey of an elderly novelist trying to correct his mistakes as a young man.
The Golden Hypatia for best documentary film went to Gaza Footbullet by the Palestinian filmmaker Iyad Alasttal. The film follows the journey of a team of amputee soccer players from Gaza to France, where they meet their French counterparts.
The Silver Hypatia award for best documentary film went to She Was Not Alone by the Iraqi filmmaker Hussein Al Asasdi, which explores the life of an elderly woman who lives alone in a small reed hut amid the marshes of southern Iraq.
A special mention went to Jamila in the Time of Hirak, by the Algerian filmmaker Harrat Abdel Rahman. The film follows the recent Algerian popular movement through the eyes of Jamila, a homeless elderly woman in the city.
In the animation competition, the golden award went to How My Grandmother Became a Chair by the Lebanese filmmaker Nicolas Fattouh, the Silver award to Under the Shadow by the Jordanian filmmaker Sumaya Barakat, and a special mention Destiny by the Yemeni filmmaker Mohammed Ebrahim.
In the student film competition, the golden award went to Dear Laila by the Egyptian filmmaker Salma Alaa, based on a story by the renowned late novelist Ihsan Abdel Quddous. It explores the question of how essential physical interaction is for love, especially in relation to coincidence.
The silver award went to both On Air by Youssef Assaf and The Rollercoaster by Malak Badawi. On Air is a science fiction movie about a famous scientist facing a choice between telling the truth and satisfying the authorities. The Roller Coaster is hybrid film that explores what goes in the mind and the soul of a female teenager regarding her future and love life.
ASFF’s choice of films reflected concerns common across the Arab world and in the diaspora, but intergenerational interaction was a dominant theme. At the end of Jordanian filmmaker Faris Alrajoob’s The Ghosts We Left At Home, two men on a motorcycle – one in his fifties, the other young – are driving through the streets of Amman at night, both thinking about female partners. In Ertidad, by the Saudi filmmaker Mohammed Alhamoud, a newly married urban couple visiting the bridegroom’s maternal village do not realise how far rural society has changed.
Yellow by the Egyptian filmmaker Mahitab Alkamaar, Barakat by the Lebanese filmmaker Manon Nammour and What’s Your Name by the Lebanese filmmaker Nour Almoujabber all depict young people dealing with an older family member suffering from Alzheimer’s, a kind of metaphor for intergenerational miscommunication stressing the relationship between past and present.
In Late Night Hours, by the Egyptian filmmaker Abdelrahman Khalil, a young man finds himself in a strange situation where his grandfather is in denial about the death of his lifelong partner. In the Saudi film Bond, by Hussam Alhulwah ,every kind of communication between a young man and his father is emotionally severed.
The ASFF is a young people’s grassroots initiative founded by Mohamed Mahmoud with Mohamed Saadoun and Mony Mahmoud as president, director, and artistic director, respectively. The annual event is organised through the Arts’ Circle (Dayret Al-Fann) Association.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly