An Egyptian presence was strongly felt at the fourth Amman International Film Festival, with four films participating in the various competitions and many others emerging through the industry sections. Maggie Kamal’s Microbus and Kawther Younis’s My Girlfriend both participated in the Arab Short Film Competition, where the latter won the Black Iris Award for Best Arab Short Film. Younis also won an award for her feature documentary project Waiting for Godot within the Film Projects in Progress section.
Hend Bakr’s The Tedious Tour of M. participated in the Arab Feature Documentary Film Competition, and Mohammed El-Samman’s Rat Hole participated in the Arab Feature Narrative Film Competition, winning a Special Mention for the First-time Lead Actress Rana Khattab. The iconic Egyptian director, Yousry Nasrallah gave a masterclass on film directing, moderated by Egyptian producer, Jehan El-Tahry, and Egyptian film critic Ahmed Shawky gave the Film Critic masterclass moderated by Tunisian director Mehdi Hamili.
Microbus and My Girlfriend explore gender boundaries in society. In Microbus 17-year-old Nour suddenly encounters the limits imposed on her by her gender as a female in a male-dominated society. Alone on the highway without the protection of her father, she realises for the first time that the strange man, the microbus driver, with whom she is, who a few minutes ago was only a service provider, is a threat. A girl coming of age loses her innocence as well as her trust in the world. She has the feeling that she doesn’t deserve to live without that kind of fear. Maggie Kamal, the director, writer, and producer of Microbus, was able to adequately intensify the transitional moments affecting the life of the young woman, to conclude the situation with more questions than answers.
Maggie Kamal is an Egyptian-American writer, director and producer based in NYC. She was awarded the Ostrovsky Family Fund grant for her thesis screenplay Microbus, which later won the special judges award at City Visions. Microbus later had its European Premiere at Clermont Ferrand International Short Film Festival and won the best short film award at Festival De Cine Africano; it was selected for the Carthage Film Festival 2022 and had its US premiere at the Academy Award-qualifying Cinequest Film Festival; it continues to tour the global festivals circuit.
While the situation to which Nour is led in Maggie Kamal’s film is familiar, in My Girlfriend Kawthar Younis breaks into further horizons re-exploring gender boundaries and sexual identity. In just a few minutes the film raises several controversial issues: how two teens in love circumvent a society that besieges them, but with the same stifling tools; how the fathers, gatekeepers against wolves, can turn into wolves; and whether there is a solid boundary separating what is known as masculinity from what is known as femininity.
In Kawthar Younis’s film, the main characters find themselves in the no man’s land between collective consciousness and concrete reality, exposing the contradictions. My Girlfriend is about two young people who fall in love spontaneously, innocently and curiously, shaking the falsehood, pretence, and hypocrisy of a world besieging them. Cowritten by Ahmed Essam El Sayed and Kawthar Younis, it stars Marc Haggar, Ilham Safei El Din, Fadel El Garhi, and Sonia Farid. It had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and it won several awards including a special jury award at the Cairo International Film Festival, a best film, best director, best actress and best actor award at the Cairo Shorts and the Dublin International Film Festival.
Kawthar Younis is a Cairo-based filmmaker known for A Present from the Past. In addition to My Girlfriend winning the Best Arab Short Film Award at the Amman International Film Festival, Younis received a production grant of $4,000 for her next feature documentary project, Waiting for Godot. The project, which is being produced by director, writer and producer Ahmed Amer, is a continuation of Younis’s first long documentary film A present from the Past, which was her Cairo Higher Institute of Cinema third-year project. While in her first film she was trying to bring a gift from the past to her beloved father, in her next film, she is trying to bring him a gift from the future.
In his feature length narrative film Rat Hole, the winner of a Special Mention for a First-time Lead Actress Rana Khattab, the writer-director Mohammed El-Samman follows the life of a telemarketer at a nonprofit organisation over the course of a day as she bounces from call to call in an attempt to amass enough donations to appease her manager, who agreed to lend her some money to relocate to a neighbourhood with better living standards if she hits her quota. The film stars Rana Khattab, Mohamed Yorka, Kamal El-Asnawy, and Hanan Helmy
El-Samman is also a novelist who wrote Unexpected Mr Right and Remonda, and a screenwriter who won the 2022 Best Script Sawiris Cultural Awards for Earthmen. As for her feature length documentary The Tedious Tour of M. by Hend Bakr, it participated in the Arab Feature Documentary Films competition. In this film Hend, the director, approaches the long forgotten but much respected novelist Mohamed Hafez Ragab in his simple apartment where he decided to live in seclusion in the 1980s. She is intrigued by the fact that Ragab decided to voluntarily end his career at the peak, feeling he could not be part of the cultural sphere in the metropolis.
Hend insists on investigating the reason behind this radical change in his path, until she uncovers the secret that Ragab believes that he is doomed never to write again. The film had the Jury Special mention of Gabes film festival, Tunisia.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly