22 - 28 July 1999
Issue No. 439
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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An Everyman from ShubraBy Nehad Selaiha
Last Sunday, at the Cairo International Conference Centre in Nasr City, where most of the events of the Fifth Cairo Radio and Television Festival are taking place this week, many of the luminaries were still arriving an hour after the scheduled beginning of the inauguration ceremony. Finally, when the commotion accompanying the arrival of the stars died down, the MC, Sanaa Mansour, introduced the four principal figures behind the festival: Hamdi El-Konayessi, head of Egyptian Radio and secretary-general of the festival; Abdel-Rahman Hafez, president of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union and head of the festival's preparation committee; renowned radio figure Fahmi Omar, honorary head of the festival; and Minister of Information Safwat El-Sherif.
This was followed by more introductions: the Arab guests of the festival, the jurors, and the stars of Youssef Chahine's Al-Akhar (L'Autre), the film to be screened at the opening ceremony, which is also a Television co-production. As Chahine, once a bitter enemy of television, came on stage, everybody applauded fervently. This new cooperation is seen as marking a welcome reconciliation.
Before the screening of the film, a musical show directed by Yehia El-Alami, head of the Television Production Sector, was staged. In a series of tableaux, dancers shook their glittering accessories to the lip-syncing of Medhat Saleh and Anoushka. The tableaux, meant to depict the evolution of communication since the dawn of history, were a bit of an anticlimax, and when Al-Akhar was finally screened, most of the audience heaved a sigh of relief. This same audience's reaction at the end of the film was rather ambivalent, however, some were overheard whispering that it was "just like Titanic".
So much for the opening ceremony. This year the festival hosts 730 works in the fields of radio and television production -- serialised dramas, episodes and programmes -- from several Arab countries. Egypt's 40 entries top the list, followed by Syria, Morocco, Kuwait, Tunisia, the Emirates, Oman and Lebanon, with minor contributions from Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine and Qatar. The productions presented at the festival this year are not necessarily representative of the country's media achievement, whether in quality or quantity. For instance, Tunisia only offered radio productions, while Morocco's entries were exclusively from television, and Syria, a country which excels in television drama, brought mostly serials to the festival.
Despite the fact that Egyptian Television, with its three branches -- the Production Sector, the Voice of Cairo for Audio-Visual Production and Media Production City -- is especially prolific in the production of television serials and single episodes, highly marketable in the Gulf countries, only a total of 15 television serials and five single episodes will enter the various official competitions under the heading of television drama. These entries include sub-generic genres: social, comic, Islamic-historic, national epic, video clip, fantastic and science fiction. Abdel-Rahman Hafez explained that Egypt could have easily doubled or tripled the total number of dramatic works in the competition, but refrained for fear of overloading the jury.
As for the Nile Thematic Channels (NTC), this year marks their first involvement in the festival with several television programmes, the serialised comedy The Good and the Wicked, and the NTC's narrative and documentary film productions, which are likely candidates for awards. Hassan Hamed, head of the NTC, explained that "our strategy is to produce short films, thus giving a wider chance to young filmmakers in a medium that is more appropriate to our channels since we are not planning to compete with commercial films or with the Media Production Company. It is wiser to embark on production step by step in order to maintain a special quality standard." This might explain why the two NTC narrative films in the competition, Omar Nagui's Azra' Al-Nil (Nile Virgin) and Ahmed Maher's Ilamat Ibril (April Signs), are of such exceptionally refined quality, even in comparison with the mainstream standards of the local film industry. The NTC's documentary films presented at the festival are Ali El-Ghazouli's Hadith Al-Samt (The Speech of Silence), Ezzeddin Said's Salah Hassouna and Al-Rango by Arab Lutfi. Hamed added: "The NTC is happy to produce experimental works which no private producer would risk financing. Furthermore, we may also consider producing proper musicals, as it is a genre nearing extinction in Egypt." In fact, the television series produced by the NTC is sufficient proof of Hamed's assertion: "Each of its episodes is only 15 minutes long, incorporating musical tableaux; I think that is quite experimental."
On the fringe of the festival, the exhibition grounds of the Cairo International Conference Centre allotted 3,500 square metres to some 200 participants from 22 Arab and foreign countries, who are exhibiting their products at the festival's Media Production Market. Among these were 80 American, European and Asian audio-visual brand names in the media technology section. The market is an important feature of the festival, since the Egyptian media alone consumes equipment and hardware to the tune of half a billion dollars yearly. There is a reason for that, however. Hussein Amin, professor of satellite communications at the American University in Cairo, explains that "the launching of the Egyptian satellite station coincided with the advent of digital technology worldwide. Therefore, we have enjoyed state-of-the-art, top-quality resolution and a multi-channel environment right from the start."
The results of the festival's competition, to be announced tonight in the closing ceremony, cover 39 different radio and television competition categories. The total prize money awarded this year amounts to LE243,000, with the award winners selected by 20 jury panels. This year, the jury panels in the radio competitions are presided over by veteran radio broadcaster Taher Abu Zeid, while Fawzi Fahmi, head of the Academy of Arts, heads the television competition jury panels. Of the 252 jurors, 60 come from Arab countries other than Egypt, while the rest are Egyptian.
Five years into the festival, there are as yet no definitive signs of inter-Arab communication on the level of the media. Al-Jazira, Qatar's popular news channel, is still denied membership to the Arab Broadcasting Union, on the basis that it is too bold for its own good. The average Egyptian remains almost as ignorant of the various Arab cultures as any non-Arab. A sad reminder of inter-Arab conflicts was witnessed at the inaugural ceremony when all the Arab delegates were being introduced on stage. As the Kuwaiti delegate was introduced after the delegate from Iraq -- who had generated the most applause from the audience-- rather than standing in the place allotted to him next to his Iraqi colleague, he walked across the stage to the very end of the line.