The many colors of 8th Aswan International Women Film Festival

Ati Metwaly , Tuesday 30 Apr 2024

The 8th edition of the Aswan International Women Film Festival took place between 20 and 25 April 2024, bringing a multitude of film screenings, workshops, seminars and discussions to Egypt's south

Aswan International Women Film Festival


The eighth Aswan International Women Film Festival (AIWFF) closed on Thursday 25 April, wrapping up a five-day kaleidoscope on films focusing on women’s issues. Though the closing ceremony took place at noon, somewhat unusually for a film festival, the hall of Aswan’s Tolip hotel, which hosted most AIWFF activities, filled with artists from all walks of life and every part of the world. They exchanged their impressions of days spent in Aswan, whether in the festival’s halls or under the blazing sun of the southernmost city.

The brainchild of Mohamed Abdel Khalik, the festival’s president, and Hassan Abou Eleila, its director, this unique event is a platform for films created by women or tackling women-related issues with workshops, seminars and discussions as well as screenings. This does not mean that AIWFF is a women-exclusive festival. By also inviting men to conversations and craft talks, the AIWFF builds a dynamic balance between the two genders through the topics tackled as well as the journeys of the movies’ creators.

This year, the AIWFF screened more than 70 films from 36 countries, from full-length fiction and documentary features to short films, and works created by local students who for the past few years have been participating in cinematic workshops held in Aswan.

Spotlight on Tunisia

As Abdel-Khalik explained during the opening ceremony on 20 April, Tunisia had numerous cinematic triumphs in 2023, so it was only natural to honour this country, shedding light on its recent creative achievements.

The highlight of Tunisia included honouring the Tunisian-Egyptian star Hend Sabry, Tunisian editor Kahéna Attia (who also sat on the Feature Film Competition Jury) and Tunisian Ambassador Mohamed Ben Youssef together with the Egyptian honorees, director Hala Khalil, actress Ghada Adel, film editor Mona Elsabban, Aswan’s Deputy Governor Ghada Abu Zeid and Head of the European Union Delegation to Egypt Christian Berger.

In terms of Tunisian fare, the festival included Four Daughters (Les Filles d’Olfa) by Kaouther Ben Hania, planned to screen during the opening ceremony. Bad weather delayed numerous planes carrying the AIWFF’s guests, however, and the film screening was postponed to the AIWFF’s second day.

The multi-award-winning film was nominated for Best Feature Documentary at the 2024 Academy Awards. In Aswan, it won three major awards, two of which were in the Feature Film Competition: the Asia Dagher Award for Best Film and the Latifa El-Zayat Award for Best Screenplay. Another award was granted by the European Union for Best Euro-Mediterranean Film, shared with The Memoirs of M.A. Draz by Maggie Morgan (Egypt).

Another Tunisian film, Backstage (2023) by Atef Ben Mahmoud and Khalil Benkirane, competed in the Feature Film Category. Meanwhile, Tunisian director Mervat Kamoun served on the Short Film Competition jury. The Tunisian presence included a special program dedicated to Tunisian short films, while a symposium for Women in Tunisian Cinema took place with the participation of female Tunisian critics, academics and directors.

The winners

In the Feature Film Competition, the Bahega Hafez Award for Best Director went to Sara Summa for Arthur & Dania (Germany), the Nadia Lotfy Award for Best Actress was given ex-aequo to Bianca Delbravo and Dilvin Asaad for their roles in Paradise Is Burning (Sweden), and the Rasheeda Abdelsalam Special Jury Award to The Memoirs of M.A. Draz by Maggie Morgan (Egypt).

The jury of this segment featured Jagoda Szelc (Poland), Ayten Amin (Egypt), Alma Poysti (Finland) and Kahena Attia (Tunisia).

In the Short Film Competition, the Nabeeha Lotfy Award for Best Short Film went to The Envoy of God by Amina Mamani Abdoulaye (Niger, Burkina Faso, Rwanda), a poignant depiction of  10-year-old Fatima, kidnapped by jihadists and forced to become a suicide bomber in a market where she finds her mother. This 23-minute film is long enough to shake the viewer deeply, not only through its topic but also through the sound and rhythm of this brilliantly scripted story. The intensely touching, mostly silent yet extremely powerful portrayal of Fatima by young actress Salamatou Hassane is equally breathtaking.  

The Short Film Competition also gave the Best Director award to Somewhere in Between directed by Dahlia Nemlich, a co-production between Egypt, France and Lebanon. The Nahed Nasrallah Special Jury Award went to Colorado by Sandra Gallego and Pilar Gómez (Spain). Chez Gai by Islam Kamal (Egypt) scored a Special Mention.

Though a short film from Poland titled Old Summer did not receive any awards, it was an interesting entry, spotted by several cinephiles. Directed by Maria Wider, the documentary follows a 71-year old woman searching for a partner. The film touches on a rarely explored topic, giving voice to a highly marginalised segment of society, and showing that their dreams and hopes are as valid as those of younger people. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker who revealed her journey while preparing for this production and the many behind-the-scenes aspects of its making.

The jury of the Short Film Competition featured Nahed El-Sebai (Egypt), Mirvet Kammoun (Tunisia), and Lucie Kralova (Czechia).

The festival also screens Egyptian films, released commercially in the previous 12 months. The award for the Best Egyptian Film was given to Flight 404 by Hani Khalifa, and the Egyptian Tourism Authority awarded Maqsoom by Kawthar Younis.

In the Films with Impact Competition, the Best Film award went to I Told You So by Malak AlSayyad (Egypt, USA), the Jury Special award to The Light in My Eyes by Mohanad Diab (The Netherlands, Egypt), and the Best Idea award to Interior Day by Rafik Joseph (Egypt). The jury members (Egyptian artists Samir Shahin and Dalia Bassiouny, and Lebanese Doris Saba) revealed that the choice was extremely challenging since all the films tackled an important topic in a way worthy of special attention.

Many films remained on the audience’s minds long after their screening. One such award-winning title was Memoirs of M.A. Draz by Maggie Morgan. The film, which had its world premiere at the AIWFF, delves into the life of Azharite scholar Mohamed Abdallah Draz (1894-1958). Decades after his passing, Noha ElKholy (the movie’s producer) stumbles on a treasure trove of her great-grandfather’s legacy: letters, diaries, and photographs. The screening and Q&A was attended by Morgan, scriptwriter Taghreed El-Asfoury, and Draz’s son, Mohsen El-Khouly, as well as four of his grandchildren.

Countless films, including many that did not receive an award, represented a unique idea, provided a captivating image, stirred thoughts, raised discussions or were just true pieces of cinematic art. Suffice to mention two of the AIWFF’s segments — capturing Palestinian and Sudanese short films respectively — to understand the importance of cinema in communicating socio-political realities, or simply highlighting the human condition, including the struggles of women in war-torn countries.

Not only did the pictures from Sudan speak about the consecutive wars, they also highlighted their consequences: women finding themselves alone with the children, having to play the role of their husbands and fathers in a setting where they are not safe. They also pointed to the horrors of displacement and people trying to rebuild their lives outside their country.


A particularly interesting segment of the Aswan International Women Film Festival is education, mostly undertaken through workshops. Each year, the organisers provide highly professional workshops that aim to develop young calibres interested in embarking on a filmmaking path, with many starting weeks before the festival.

Since their launch in 2020, under the direction of Sayed Aly, a large segment of those workshops has been supported by the Delegation of the European Union to Egypt and Drosos Foundation. As a result, over the past years, more than 250 young women and men participated in workshops on filmmaking and scriptwriting, with the majority being women. In fact, it is the largest training program in any Egyptian festival, with up to 180 training hours each year, according to Egypt’s State Information Service.

Today, the AIWFF has more than 50 films created by young Upper Egyptians in its repertoire, and a few of them have made it to festivals outside Egypt. This year, the AIWFF also launched a brand new project: the South Cinema Archive. This large-scale venture will serve as a platform giving the Upper Egypt’s talents international visibility through an archive accessible online.

A number of films created during AIWFF workshops throughout the past years were presented on several TV screens with headphones in one of the hotel halls, creating a living experience for the viewers willing to discover the creativity of the students. The AIWFF organised the Workshop Competition with entries from this year’s sessions and winners as follows: 1st Prize for Scenes from Memory by Mohamed Rabee, 2nd Prize for The Bicycle by Safaa Metwally, 3rd Prize for Rest in Peace by Mahmoud Hamdy, alongside numerous Special Mentions.

Many up-and-coming filmmakers visited the festival’s premises, proudly talking about their work. I discovered their ideas but, more importantly, their passion. From stories embedded in life observation to small moments captured on film, and explorations of artificial intelligence and its impact on people, the young filmmakers’ imagination was as vast as the skills they gained at those workshops.

But the educational component of the AIWFF does not end here. Besides the workshops for short films supported by EU and Drosos, the AIWFF provides a series of educational activities. Among the highlights this year was a special four-day Creative Producing workshop offered by the Los Angeles-based Film Independent to 15 previously accepted applicants. It was the first time in the AIWFF’s history to have an in-depth workshop dedicated to feature-length films. Alongside the workshop, three Egyptian filmmakers were offered a One-Week Residency Award, an opportunity to further their knowledge in Los Angeles.

Other educational sessions featured Egyptian artists, such as Dalia Bassiouny, who held a Screenplay Workshop, Editing by Akram El-Arabi, and Cinematography by Adham Hamed, and the Relationship between Actor and Director by Salwa Mohamed Ali.

An important pillar of the AIWFF is the Nut Forum, which provides education and/or discusses important issues facing women in general and woman filmmakers in particular. They include discussions, seminars and masterclasses, among other theory-filled meetings.

One of the workshops featured in the Forum was The Role of Cinema in Promoting Women’s Economic and Social Empowerment, implemented by a global non-profit Pathfinder International. The workshop was attended mostly by women from the city of Aswan and its vicinity. As the presenters simplified the many financial mechanisms to reach economic progress in an accessible way, they remained deeply relevant to Upper Egypt’s realities. It did not take time for the attendees to engage vigorously, leading to the need for an extension of the workshop’s duration.  

The Nut Forum also featured events such as the Women and Life Symposium, the Image of Woman in Arabic Cinema discussion, masterclasses by Mona Elsabban and Kahéna Attia/ Lucie Kralova gave a class on Visual Storytelling, Azza Kamel held an Anti-Trafficking in Women Workshop, etc.

The final light should be shed on the AIWFF’s yearly publication entitled The Image of Women in Arab Cinema, which saw its fifth edition this year. Featuring cinema and cinema-makers from 15 Arab countries — with Tunisia attracting a lot of attention — the book was also translated to English by the AIWFF. Following its annual practice, it will now be translated to French by the International Women’s Film Festival of Salé, Morocco, and to Dutch by the Rotterdam Arab Film Festival.

It is impossible to fully describe the five days of the Aswan International Women Film Festival, and all the activities that made hundreds of attendees busy. Packed with overlapping events, the festival has obviously grown. The sheer size of the event testifies to how the AIWFF has gained credibility, with many partners joining its 2024 almanacks for the first time.

Now that theatre lights of the eighth AIWFF have been turned off, what remains are experiences, connections created by the filmmakers and film aficionados, lessons learnt, and new paths to be solidified or forged for next year’s round.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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