Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1389, (12 - 18 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A happy 20th

Nahed Nasr plans on attending the new Ismailia Film Festival

A happy 20th
Essam Zakaria

This year the Ismailia International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts (IIFFDS, 11-17 April) is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a commemorative programme that includes an exhibition of memorabilia, retrospective screenings of award-winning films, publications, and tributes to the founders. 

According to film critic Essam Zakaria, the president of the festival, the programme is designed as a window onto all the previous rounds: “Such a task was far from easy since the festival lacks any documented archive but what we have reached in one long year is a foundation for a reliable archive in the near future. We started by collecting all the material we could dating from the first round in 1991, in addition to listing the award-winning films and creating a database of filmmakers.” 

The exhibition will showcase posters, photos, catalogues and publications from all 19 rounds, providing the audience with a unique opportunity to grasp the history of one of the region’s more important cinematic events. “We collected material not only from the different institutions that have been in charge of the festival at one time or another, such as the Cultural Development Fund and the National Centre of Cinema, but also from the private collections of colleagues and festival fans,” Zakaria explains. 

The retrospective programme includes 52 screenings of award-winning films in the presence of their directors. They include the Iraqi film War, Love, God and Madness by Mohamed Al-Daradji, which won the Jury Prize in 2008; the Palestinian documentary Frontiers of Dreams and Fears by Mai Masri, which won the Best Documentary award in 2001, the Latvian The Kiosk by Anete Melece, which won the Best Animation Film award in 2014, the Egyptian short Lilly by Marwan Hamed, which won the Jury Prize in 2001, the South African documentary Sincerely Yours by Dumisani Phakathi, which won the Jury Prize in 2002 and the Egyptian documentary Girls as Such by Tahani Rashid, which won the Best Documentary award in 2006.

All the jury members of the present round are filmmakers who won awards in previous rounds. Headed by the German filmmaker Pepe Danquart, who won the Best Short Film award in 1993 for Black Rider, which also won the Academy Award for the Best Live Action Short Film in 1994, the jury includes Brazilian director Claudia Nunes (Grand Prize for Number Zero, 2010); Spanish director Nicolas Muñoz (Jury Prize for El  milagro de San Lazaro, 2017); Serbian director Goran Radvanociv (Grand Prize for Con Fidel, pase lo que pase, 2012), Estonian director Urmas Jõemees, (Best Animation Film The Table, 2005); Moroccan director Hamid Basguit (Best Short Film The Last Scream, 2007) and the Egyptian director Heba Yossry (Certificate of Appreciation for Another Love, 2006). 

The 20th IIFFDS pays tribute to the late film critic Ali Abu Shadi (who contributed to the development of the festival) and the Iraqi-Swiss filmmaker Samir Gamal Eldin, for whose career participation in the IIFFDS was a turning point. According to Zakaria, “We wanted to make a clear connection between the pioneers and the young generations, which is the philosophy of festival, by honouring a representative of each group.”

Abu Shadi, who passed away a few months ago, was among IIFFDS founders and served as its president for nine years. “Abu Shadi continued with the festival and brought it back to Ismailia after many years of suspension. He helped to develop a unique identity for the festival as an international cinematic event. We decided on his name a long time before his sudden death,” says Zakaria. As for Gamal Eldin, he did not make his name in the Arab world until Forget Baghdad (2001), which premiered at Ismailia. “His latest, Iraqi Odyssey, was screened at Cairo International Film Festival in 2014”. 

In total, 62 films from 48 countries (selected out of 1,500 submissions from 93 countries) are being screened. An Egyptian Students competition (with 18 films competing) has been added to the four existing competitions: the Feature-length Documentary competition (in which 10 films from private as well as public institutions are participating), the Short Documentary competition (14 films), the Short Feature Film competition (21), and the Animation Film competition (17). “The Gulf countries have a new, young and promising cinematic movement that should have its place in IIFFDS,” says Zakaria. And the Gulf presence is greater than ever, with Kuwaiti filmmaker Youssef Al-Bakshy’s animation film A Move, Emirati filmmaker Nujoom Al Ghanem’s feature-length documentary Sharp Tools, Saudi filmmaker Abdulrahman Jerash’s short Hidden Room.

Aside from the students’ films, there are three in-competition films by Egyptians: Sara Nabil’s animation First Day, Osama Aiad’s short documentary The Last to Leave Rio and Omar Nayef’s short fiction What To Do before Midnight August 1, 2016. Few feature-length documentaries are made in Egypt, and those that are will often be obliged to premiere at the Arab festivals that contributed to their funding. That is why, Zakaria says, the Feature-length Documentary competition doesn’t have an Egyptian entry: “According to IIFFDS regulations, we can only select Egyptian films that will premiere at the festival. This limits our chances. But at the end of the day this is an international festival for the local audience to get in touch with the world cinema. We have our strict standards which have nothing to do with nationality.”

To help promote cinematic culture in Ismailia, where the films are screened at five different venues to maximise audience participation – the Ismailia Cultural Palace, Cinema Donia, Misr Public Library, Al Shagara Social Club, and Al Nafoura Square Public Garden – a programme of workshops is being held for young people. A film club was also established this year. “It is one of IIFFDS’s strategies to reach out to and encourage the local residents to become part of the festival.” It is in this way that, organised by the National Centre of Cinema (headed by Khaled Abdel-Gelil) on a tiny budget of LE 1.6 million, with no celebrities or red carpet, the IIFFDS celebrates 20 years of service to the public and to filmmaking the world over. 

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