Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1380, (8 - 14 February 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The sweet potato punchline

Soha Hesham attended the three-day Zawya Short Film Festival of Egyptian shorts

With four prizes — for best film (LE15,000), best director (LE15,000), best script (a screenwriting mentorship) and the jury’s choice (LE10,000) from Red Star Films, Misr International Films, Birthmark Films and the Film Clinic, respectively — the third Zawya Short Film Festival (1-3 February) was judged by younger Egyptian filmmakers Aiten Amin, Sherif Al-Bendary and Marwan Emara. 

Roshdi Ahmed’s The Unknown Sweet Potato Seller won the Emerging Media Storytelling/Commentary award at the Miami Short Film Festival 2017 but its screening in the 13th Dubai Film Festival Muhr Competition was cancelled. So was its Cairo screening when the censorship authority failed to confirm its approval. This recalled the sad debacle of Tamer Al-Said’s Akher Ayam Al-Madina (In the Last Days of the City) being withdrawn from the Cairo International Film Festival even though it screened at the Berlinale, evidently because it deals with the January Revolution — especially since The Unknown Sweet Potato Seller is about a 13-year-old sweet potato seller killed during protests in 2013. Ahmed is a graduate of the animation department of the Faculty of Fine Arts with two shorts to his name and additional experience on such films as Ahmed Diab’s 678 and Raouf Abdel-Aziz’s A Thousand and One Nights. Distressed by its exclusion from Dubai and Zaywa, he has stressed the fact that his film presents a human story, not a political statement. 

Christophe Saber’s Punchline, an eight-minute, French-speaking Swiss production about two wannabe gangsters unable to shoot their victim, features the most brilliant dialogue I have seen in a long while, with the two of them (once joined by the victim) taunting and laughing at each other, discussing the appropriateness of a Biblical phrase which they seem to have got from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction or trying to hide what they’re about to do from a child who unexpectedly appears on the scene. They have only one bullet, which they waste while having a fight — until their victim manages to run them over and escape. With excellent acting, the film (which won the Audience Award at Brooklyn International Film Festival) brilliantly satirises a range of tropes with extreme economy of means. Egyptian-born Saber, 27, is a Swiss national who studied filmmaking in the US and Lausanne whose full-length documentary, The Valley of Salt (2016), was screened at Thessaloniki and Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival; he is working on his full-length fiction debut.

Based on one of the pieces in the late Ibrahim Aslan’s sequence of domestic short stories Two Bedroom Flat, Shamel Youssef’s Khalil: About Very Important Matters, is a 25-minute tragicomedy about an increasingly obsessive compulsive retiree getting on his wife’s nerves. Khalil concentrates on the strangest details: a fly drowning in a glass of water preoccupies him during a colleague’s retirement party, while at home he looks for his special cheese dish and, after taking measurements in the bathroom, makes the (no doubt false) discovery that one of his legs is longer than the other. Samar Abdel-Nasser’s script is insightful, while the professional acting helps to make the action convincing. The film was screened at the 19th Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts. Youssef is a student at the High Cinema Institute who has made two documentaries; this is his first fiction film.

Adel Ahmed Yehia’s Nada is the story of Nada (Mai Al-Gheiti), a mute ballerina who falls in love with a blind pianist (Amir Salah). The characters, Yehia has stated, are both real; but their love story is fiction. The 27-minute film emphasises the challenges to which the two characters’ disabilities subject them and how they deal with them alone and together: at one point Nada’s lover ironically helps her cross the street. Despite Al-Gheiti’s efforts and attempts at sign language, the idea of modelling the film on a ballet sequence is poorly executed while the picture’s red-dominated colours are oversaturated in this copy. The film was awarded second prize at the My Love Michelle Short Film Festival in the United States. 

Noha Adel’s Into Reverse uses a simple — and very common — Cairo traffic situation to say a lot about Egyptian society: not only patriarchal norms but the failure to perceive let alone respect right and wrong in the most basic public matters. A woman driving her car in the right direction on a narrow one-way street is faced by a barrage of cars driving in the wrong direction; one of the male drivers is determined that she should back up in order to clear the way, but she will have none of it. She is even more determined to achieve a small victory in this situation, even though under normal circumstances there would be no battle in the first place. Into Reverse is Adel’s debut — the low-budget graduation project of a workshop shot over 18 hours — based on a real-life incident she witnessed on her own street. Adel uses amateur actors, as she puts it, “friends who gave of their time to help me make my film”, but manages to achieve her aims with visual beauty and humour, employing such elements as stray cats and dogs and maintaining remarkable clarity of vision.

Major Tom, directed by Khaled Medhat Moeit won Best Film by Red Star Films, From the Remains of the Dead by Muhammed Taymour won Best Director Award by Misr International Films, Something Cold directed by Amrosh Badr won Best Script award by Birthmark Films and Into Reverse by Noha Adel won the Jury Prize by Film Clinic and a Special Mention was made for the unscreened film The Unknown Sweet Potato Seller directed by Roshdy Ahmed.

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