Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Questions for the future

Nahed Nasr sums up the issues surrounding the Cairo International Film Festival

Swank, Cage and Brody at the closing ceremony
Swank, Cage and Brody at the closing ceremony

The 39th round of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) closed in the presence of three Hollywood stars – Nicolas Cage, Hilary Swank, and Adrien Brody – fulfilling the demands of the media, who believe hosting a Hollywood star is a reflection of the importance of the festival. This is the first return to Hollywood representatives in CIFF since the 34th round, in 2010, when it opened in the presence of Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche. According to Youssef Sherif Rezkalla, the artistic director of CIFF,  DMC TV is responsible for inviting international stars this year. Many observers feel this step will improve future rounds of the festival in terms of participating films and invited stars. But judging by this year’s round, there is room for improvement in rather more important matters.

Though, thanks to the Ministry of Finance as well as private-sector sponsors, the budget was doubled to LE12 million (still very small), CIFF had many serious problems. The lack of any platform to support Egyptian and Arab cinema – the Cairo Film Connection coproduction initiative, for example, which helped 14 projects last year before being suspended this year – is one such problem. Likewise the Cinema of Tomorrow competition, whose raison d’etre was the financial prize to help support young filmmakers – cancelled this year. According to Mohammed Atef, the director of the programme, it is not clear whether this is a temporary or permanent decision but it mustn’t be forgotten how essential it is.

Rezkalla says the lack of support for young filmmakers has dire effects on the film industry as a whole. “One of the festival’s roles is to support the film industry by inventing ways to participate in film production. Such funds in other Arab film festivals have resulted in many productions, and CIFF should take the lead”.  He suggested that CIFF should take over a Ministry of Culture competition – halted this year – to support film production. 

Cancelling the Cinema of Tomorrow financial prize was part of a plan to restructure CIFF’s three parallel programmes, of which Cinema of Tomorrow is one. The other two are the New Arab New Horizons and the Critics Week competitions. In previous rounds the three programmes were run by the Cinema Syndicate, the Higher Cinema Institute and the Egyptian Association of Film Critics, respectively, on a budget of LE50-100 thousand handed to the festival, which was also in charge of guest travel and accommodation. The decision to integrate the three programmes into CIFF placed the festival in charge of three competitions without any budget at all, and so – as well as financial prizes – workshops, seminars, master classes, and educational publications were cancelled.

According to the Critics Week director Ramy Abdel-Razik, “In this year’s round of the Critics Week all we have are the films. We could not provide young critics with any cultural or educational material although this was the main aim of the competition.”  The same goes for Atef: “If we had the money we could provide young filmmakers with thematic training workshops or master classes. Unfortunately we do not.”

The absence of Egyptian films from this year’s festival, though it is the result of a shortage in film production, also has to do with the selection criteria for the festival administration. 

According to Ahmed Shawky, assistant artistic director of CIFF and New Arab Horizons director, the unwritten rule is that only Egyptian films of the highest quality can participate, but “the participation of Egyptian films in the festival is important in itself”, he says, “and we could have selected some of the films produced this year, scarce as they they are, had we changed our perspective. The media played a role in this conservative attitude but we should not continue with it”. 

One Egyptian film submitted this year was Kiss Me Not by Ahmed Amer, who decided to withdraw his film at the last minute following disagreements within the selecting committee; it was selected in the current edition of the Doha Film Festival. According to Yousef Sherif Rezkalla, Egyptian films are selected by the festival’s higher advisory committee, not just the normal selection committee, and this leads to many disagreements: “This is one of the reasons Kiss Me Not is not in the 39th round…”

All of which is not to mention technical and logistical glitches like inadequate screens at the Opera House theatres, delays and confusion in ticketing. It seems with a little focus and determination, these as well as the aforementioned, deeper problems can be remedied, the better to sustain the oldest and in many ways the most prestigious film festival in the region.

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