Al-Ahram Weekly Online
30 August - 5 September 2001
Issue No.549
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Faten Hamama
photo: Antoune Albert

Alexandrie encore

THE 17TH Alexandria Film Festival (5-11 September) opens next Wednesday with Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge (which opened the Cannes Film Festival in May), Mohamed Saleh, the chairman of the Egyptian Writers and Critics Association, announced last week. The Association founded the annual event in 1973 and has continued to organise and administer it. This year, Saleh pointed out, the opening of the Library of Alexandria will contribute to making the festival a truly international event.

Indian actress Jaya Bachchan, the wife of Amitab Bachchan, heads the official competition jury. Honoured are Bachchan himself, French critic Jean-Pierre Garcia and Egyptian actress Faten Hamama.

The festival will celebrate, in addition, the centennial anniversary of composer Mohamed Abdel-Wahab's birth and that of Verdi's death.

El-Amir Abaza, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Writers and Critics Association, published a statement last Wednesday on behalf of the festival's administration, explaining the reason why Faten Hamama had been selected as "the actress of the 20th century," an honour to be conferred on her in the course of the event. In 1996 the dramatist Saadeddin Wahba, Abaza said, polled more than 100 writers, critics and artists about "the best 100 films in the history of Egyptian cinema." Of the 48 actresses who contributed lead roles in the best 100 films chosen, Hamama topped the bill, with 10 performances to her name. "The runner-up was Soad Hosni, with nine films," he said.

The results of Wahba's poll came to be regarded as "the first dependable yardstick by which to measure the progress of cinema in Egypt through the years," Abaza insisted in his statement.

To Grozny and back

A HIGH-RANKING Chechen delegation headed by Anzur Aslan Muskhadoy, the Chechen president's son, attended a special screening of comedy star Mohamed Heniedi's latest film, Ga'ana Al-Bayan Al-Tali (Breaking News), last Wednesday.

The screening took place during the delegation's visit to Cairo last week. Chechen dignitaries followed the action of the film in the presence of Heniedi and members of the production team. When the film ended, a small ceremony was conducted in which Muskhadoy honoured Heniedi with the flag of Chechnya, presented as a memento of solidarity.

Ga'ana Al-Bayan Al-Tali, in which Heniedi plays a principled television journalist eager to make the world a better place, takes the Chechen question in its stride, expressing sympathy with the cause of the Chechens and their suffering at the hands of Russia.

The mandarins' uprising

OVER 500 Palestinian writers and artists marched from the Palestinian Ministry of Culture headquarters in the town of Biera to the UNESCO headquarters in Ramallah last week, staging an hour-long sit-in outside UNESCO. According to a statement presented to UNESCO officials by the deputy of the Ministry of Culture, novelist Yehya Yakhluf, the protest concerned "the Israeli military's terrorist campaign against the Palestinian people, and the Israeli authorities' blatant aggression towards the Palestinian human being."

Despite the immersion of much of the Palestinian intelligentsia in the struggle, this is the first oppositional gesture of such magnitude to be made by Palestinian intellectuals since the flare-up of the Intifada.

Postcards from Ramallah

THE ARTS are thriving elsewhere in Ramallah as the streets "heave with pictures of martyrs, mission statements of factions [of the resistance] and commercial fliers," as one reporter indicates, "opening out onto every possible avenue of life and death."

Evidence for the frenzied cultural activity that has paralleled the Intifada includes the publication in Beirut of Yehya Yakhluf's latest novel, Buhaira Waraa Al-Rih (A Lake Behind the Wind), a poetic record of the lives of simple Palestinian people set against the backdrop of early conflicts between Palestinians and settlers around Lake Tiberias.

Within this cultural capital under siege, on the other hand, at Birzeit University, Soliman Mansour exhibited clay statues under the title "Ten Years In Mud," symbolically insinuating a range of relevant feelings and experiences from thirst to burial to shelter.

Three performances in Al-Qasaba Theatre dealt more directly with themes of occupation and liberation, employing improvisational sarcasm to attack Israeli oppression and Palestinian attitudes that endorse it, or else evoking the life of Palestinians in Galilee prior to 1948.

Nor did Israeli violence stop the summer issue of the quarterly Al-Shu'araa (The Poets), headed by the poet Ghassan Zaqtan, from appearing in Ramallah on time.

"Under the glare of the spotlights," Zaqtan wrote in his introduction to the issue, "adjacent to the murderer, we resume arranging the papers of the new issue which will appear on time, while, on the walls, dead poets watch patiently over us."

One newly released documentary written and directed by Tareq Yakhluf, Laila wal Dhib (Laila and the Wolf), records the Israeli attack on a blind girls' school in Al- Biera, while a work of propaganda by Fathi Abdel-Rahman's Nidaa Al-Haq wal Salam (The Call of Truth and Peace) depicts the life of Palestinian children under fire to induce sympathy in the viewer. Such issues were addressed in new full- length features by Ahmed Habash and Youssef Al-Dik.

Compiled by Youssef Rakha

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