Short film galore

Nahed Nasr , Tuesday 26 Mar 2024

Nahed Nasr revels in Zawya Cinema’s celebration of the short film this year

Out of the City
Out of the City


To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Zawya, the pioneering arthouse cinema has put together a special programme for its eighth Zawya Shorts Festival (20 March-7 April). A new out-of-competition section will showcase 31 award-winning films from the past seven rounds. The retrospective programme includes early experiments by directors who are now well-known. Sameh Alaa, for example, won the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival 2020 for I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face — after winning the Zawya Shorts Jury Prize in the first round of the festival for his 2016  The Steak of Aunt Margaux. His second film Fifteen won the Best Film and the Best Director awards in the fourth Zawya Shorts Festival in 2019.

The retrospective programme also includes director-cinematographer Maged Nader’s Fathi Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which won a Special Mention in the second Zawya Shorts Festival in 2017. Nader was the director of photography on Ayten Amin’s Souad, which was in Cannes’ official selection in 2020. Also participating in Souad as an editor, director-editor-producer Khaled Moeit graces the retrospective with Major Tom, which won the Best Film Award in the third Zawya Shorts Festival in 2018.

Mohamed Taymour, the winner of the Best Director Award at the third Zawya Shorts Festival for his 2018 film From The Remains of the Dead, went on to take part in the production of I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face and a number of other award-winning films. This also happened with Ramy Allam, co-director of The Apocalypse, which won a special mention in the fifth Zawya Shorts Festival, as he participated in the production of several films including Streams by Mehdi Hmili, which was selected for the official competition of the Locarno International Film Festival in 2021. It also won awards at the Cairo International Film Festival and the Malmö Film Festival for Arab cinema. Allam was co-producer on Youssef Hesham’s The New Tenant, the winner of the sixth Zawya Shorts Festival Best Director Award.

The retrospective also includes Nada Riyadh’s The Trap, the winner of the Best Director Award at the fifth round, which was also nominated for the Best Short Film Award at the Cannes La Semaine de La Critique in 2019; and Kawther Younis’ My Girlfriend, the winner of the seventh round’s Best Director Award. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2022, and won a Special Jury Award at the Cairo International Film Festival. Younis went on to make her feature fiction debut, Maqsoum, which was screened in Egyptian and Arab cinemas at the beginning of this year, while Nada Riyadh is currently working on two feature film projects, a fiction film and a documentary.

The retrospective programme also includes two films by Noha Adel: Into Reverse, which won the Jury Prize in the third round, and Once Upon A Time in The Cafe, which won the Jury Prize in the fifth. Adel is currently working on her debut feature.

As for the official competition programme for the event, it has a wide, lively range of films. It includes five short documentaries by female graduates of the Creative Documentary Workshop, which is run by the Between Women Filmmakers Caravan, founded by director Amal Ramses: Twenty 2 by Shaima El-Gawady, As I Open My Eyes by Ghazzal Abdullah, I Will Wait for You by the Sea by Rasia Yusuf, The Try by Manar Imam, and I Found My Love In Massara by Stephanie Amin.

Among the directors who have become relatively established in the film industry participating this year is Morad Mostafa, with his film I Promise You Paradise, which won the jury award. The film won an award at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a total of 37 other awards. It is Mostafa’s fourth, after Ward’s Henna Party (2020), Khadiga (2021), and What We Don’t Know About Maryam (2021). Mostafa is currently developing his debut feature Aisha Can’t Fly Away Anymore in the Cinéfondation residency of Cannes Film Festival and also in the Torino Film Lab and Rotterdam Lab IFFR. I Promise You Paradise deals with the journey of Issa, a young man trapped between the difficulties of being a refugee, his failed attempts to live normally within the stressful conditions of exile, and being forced to make major and uncertain sacrifices to help his loved ones survive.

Director Ahmed Nabil also participated with his short documentary Ahmed Goes to the Garden. Nabil is best-known for his medium-length documentary 17 Fouad Street (2014), and his feature-length documentary The City will Pursue You (2017). In Ahmed Goes to the Garden, he continues with the same ambitious project of preserving memory in the face of the dramatic, violent change occurring in Alexandria. This time, he digs into his own memory and archival photos of public parks and people’s relationship with them from the 1930s to the present.

There is also Drowning Fish, the third documentary by director Amir El-Shenawy, after his short Edris (2022), and his feature-length Kilo 64 (2018), which premiered at the Cairo International Film Festival. Through the heartwarming, intimate stories of an old fisherman, Drowning Fish presents an elegy for the deteriorating condition of Lake Qarun, where fish have been wiped out by pollution.

In addition to the jury award won by Morad Mostafa, the remaining five festival awards went to directors offering first or second films. The Best Director Award went equally to Ahmed Sobhi for his debut Objects Are Closer Than They Appear, which premiered at the 45th Clermont Ferrand IFF and Dibo for his debut short fiction Amaal. While Sobhi’s film is a single, realistic take that reveals the backstories and internal conflicts of six characters in a middle-class Egyptian family’s daily life, Dibo’s film is a fantasy about what is called the Dream Holding Company, where people can buy, sell, or postpone their future dreams, or search for them in the company archives if they are lost.

Director Menna Ekram won the Dahshur Residency Award for her third short fiction Let Us Play Yesterday which premiered at El Gouna Film Festival, as well as her Color Blind (2019). Ekram’s debut short The Wheel (2015) premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival. In Let Us Play Yesterday, she tackles restrictions imposed on females through the story of a young girl at a conservative religious school.

Out of the City is the debut short documentary by Ahmed Essam Soliman, which won a special mention. The film addresses the challenges facing aspiring filmmakers and film students who live far from the capital city.

Both the Best Film Award and the Audience Award went to I Told You So, Malak Al-Sayyad’s debut, which won a DOC NYC U Competition Award, where it premiered. The film is a personal journey to explore the possibility of living with chronic pain caused by endometriosis, which affects millions of women around the world. It reveals the challenges of diagnosing the disease, the difficulties of convincing even the closest people of its existence, and the difficulty of coping with it in the absence of effective treatment.

The jury members for the eighth Zawya Shorts include the legendary director Khairy Bishara, the emerging director Omar El-Zohairy, winner of three awards at Cannes for his film Feathers, and the filmmaker Maryam Abu-Of, well-known for her successful television series.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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