Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1438, (11 - 17 April 2019)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1438, (11 - 17 April 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Screen progress

Nahed Nasr attended Alexandria’s short film bonanza

 

Located in Raml Station, downtown Alexandria, Cinema Ferial had been neglected for many years before it finally reopened for the fifth Alexandria Short Films Festival for Egyptian and Arab Films (ASFF, 3-8 April). Named after King Farouk’s eldest daughter Ferial, on whose birthday, 17 November 1938 it was opened, it is one of the oldest cinemas in town. It is now operating under the Holding Company for Investment in Cultural and Cinematic Fields, the Ministry of Culture’s first private-sector initiative, established in 2018 with the aim of “sponsoring culture and the film industry in order to revive the film industry [and] enrich the cultural and cinematic community”, as Decree No. 393, the relevant legal text, put it.


Souf-Ism

According to Holding Company head Khaled Abdel Galil – also the head of the censorship authority and the Egyptian Film Center – renovating Cinema Ferial is part of larger project of reviving old cinemas in Alexandria whose ownership has reverted to the ministry. The renovation was limited to replacing the screen, sound and light equipment and refurbishing existing furniture and facilities – just enough work to make the space usable. And for Mohamed Mahmoud, who together with his brother Mony and Mahmaed Sadoun founded the festival – they serve as president, arttistic director and director, respectively –moving activities into a cinema as opposed to smaller venues is a dream come true and “a major step” in the context of acknowledging and celebrating the short film.

The three young filmmakers founded the festival through The Arts’ Circle (Daerat Al Fan), a cultural NGO they established in 2015, relying on their and their network’s private contributions. The first round was hosted by L’atelier d’Alexandrie, and screenings were held in one of its small halls. The Alexandria Governorate provided little support, but the Alexandria Museum of Fine Art hosted the second round in 2016, when it was announced that the Ministry of Culture would be supporting the event from then on. For the next two rounds, screenings and workshops were held at such ministry venues as the Alexandria Centre of Arts, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Bayram Al-Tunsi Theatre, but never at a dedicated cinema.

Screenwriter and producer Mohamed  El Adl, cofounder of the production company El Adl Group, has been the honorary president since the first round, and he believes this one-of-a-kind event founded and run by local filmmakers outside the capital “deserves our utmost support because it has the fundamental capacity to to be continued and improved year after year at the hands of the young people who founded it”. A strategy for stability was indeed instituted starting with the first round, with the entire team including volunteers selected from the local community. Along with social media campaigns, flyers distributed on the streets and at relevant locations – cafes and cultural centres – replace more expensive advertising methods. In this way the festival has developed its own, largely Alexandrian fan base, doing what no other festival outside of Cairo has managed to.


Confusion

Each round includes two workshops at least, for aspiring local filmmakers and critics:  screenwriting and documentary film criticism, in this case. Jury members tend to hail from the independent scene: Ayten Amin, Amir Ramsis, Hala Galal, Red Star company founder producer Safie Eddeen Mahmoud, critic Mohamed Atef, aspiring Tunisian Amna Al Nagar and Lebanese actor Nicolas Mouawad. Rather more challenging in such a small festival is the film selection process, with films required for three competition sections – feature, documentary and student – as well as an out-of-competition Panorama selection. As the festival’s reputation improved so did the number of submissions, but there remained one problem: though of better quality overall, many of the films screened last year had already been seen at other events. This year the festival required that competition films should be having their Egyptian premiere there, which resulted in the out-of-competition section having better films on the whole.

***


Lollipop

ASFF included 51 competition (17 feature, nine documentary and eight student) as well as 17 Panorama films from 12 Arab countries: Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Morocco, Palestine, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen. Quality and subject matter varied widely with a strong Gulf component. A Time to Pray, a Saudi-Bahraini production by the Bahraini filmmaker Ahmed Al-Kuwaiti, deals with women’s challenges in male-dominated mosques. By focusing on the way hair is used to differentiate men and women, Saudi director Maha Al-Saati’s The Story of Grass deals with gender bias, while Lollipop by another Saudi woman director, Hanaa Saleh Alfassi, is a coming of age film that deals with the challenges young women face in an ultra-conservative society. Emirati filmmaker Ahmed Hassan Ahmed’s Wudu critiques the tendency to use religion to prioritise death over life.

Many films deal with family and parenting. Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Hussein Anwar’s Confusion tackles the effect of smart phones on family connections with a daughter torn between her love of her family and the discovery that her father is cheating on her mother. Cliché by the Egyptian director Ahmed Youssef is a comedy about families exposed to TV advertising. A Message to My Father is a moving documentary about underage marriage by the Egyptian director Loay Galal featuring a young woman telling her sad story. In Astra by the Tunisian director Nidhal Guiga, the social and cultural challenges faced by the parents of a daughter with Down’s syndrome are portrayed in a poetic and surrealistic way.


Wudu

Other films deal with conflict, or spirituality. Algerian director Youssef Mehsas’s That Is It recalls the 1990s civil war, while in Lebanese director Melissa Roukoz’s The Fifth of July an old man, having failed to prevent young men from killing each other, takes to burying their bodies. Perhaps Today by another Lebanese director, Nadine Asmar, deals with the problem of the disappeared. Bonbon by Palestinian director Rakan Mayasi portrays the inhumanity of the occupation. Souf-Ism is a documentary by the Tunisian director Younes Ben Hajria which makes a delicate connection between the materialistic and the spiritual showing the machine in a textile factory dancing in the same way as a whirling dervish. In Enjil, a short documentary by the Moroccan director Mourad Khellou, a floating white balloon tells the story of the Moroccan ghost village of Enjil. Resonances by the Lebanese director Nicolas Khoury is about a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon in which the nightmares of the camp dwellers are mixed with their traumatic stories and their voices speaking of both.

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