Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

A new beginning

Marco Mueller, the president of the jury of the 35th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), speaks to Hani Mustafa about new starts

Al-Ahram Weekly

Marco Mueller, currently the director of the Rome Film Festival (whose seventh round closed on 17 November) has extensive experience in the field of film festivals. He started his career as the director of the Rotterdam Film Festival in the Netherlands between 1989 and 1991, after which he headed the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland from 1991 to 2003. Since then, his reputation has been widespread; but when he headed the Venice Film Festival from 2004 until last year, he became an icon of the film festival world. Mueller has also worked as a film producer since the 1990s, but the most important step in the field of film production was when he produced the film No Man’s Land directed by the Bosnian Danis Tanovic in 2001, which won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival and the Academy award for best foreign film in 2002. Asked for his evaluation of this round of CIFF, his response ranges from optimism to disappointment. But, overall, he is optimistic about the future of Egypt as a whole, especially the future of creativity and cinema.

We, foreigners who love Egypt and who came to support the festival, have come to regard this round as the zero issue of a new model of the festival. I have been attending the CIFF irregularly since the eighties. After arriving to Cairo I kept thinking, Is this the beginning of the end of the festival? Or is it the beginning of a new era? The festival was always very much on the official side but I have never seen its autonomy being threatened like this time; I wanted to ask my old friend Rafik Al-Sabban, the head of the selection committee, what was the reality of the selection process, but unfortunately I didn’t have the chance. Yes, there was a committee, a group of serious professionals; however, there was a censorship committee above it. To me that was a very disturbing feeling. I have to take into account that the festival only had two months to keep the event on its feet and to have something decent.

If you have space you must defend it by developing new guidelines, or the festival will die. The festival may be a good switchboard for the entire region. When Tahar Cheriaa created the Carthage Film Days in 1966, he thought of something that should be the new platform for the region’s new cinema. When the CIFF came into existence it was also to represent the whole spectrum of film possibilities to maintain the dialogue between the heavier industry and the independents, and so far the festival hasn’t been able to completely fulfil that mission.

This festival could have a larger international scale. To explain the future impact of that festival: In the past Egypt used to count on number of historic icons like Gamal Abdel-Nasser, but now there is a new icon which is the Egyptian people. When major figures in Egyptian filmmaking, like Youssef Chahine and Salah Abu Seif, wanted to make a new start, they started listening to the ordinary Egyptian; then they could rewind and start again.

I couldn’t think of this round but as a zero issue, especially because of the existence of the Cairo Film Connection (CFC), which is a new platform for festival films. CFC is a window to the future. CFC is a step filled with vitality, variety, and a totally different picture of ordinary Egyptian cinema, films that can be the spirit of our time.

It is valuable that so many young people came to participate in or work for the festival; they have a totally different perception of things from the previous generations, they are full of force, determination and fresh ideas. For example, I was really happy working in the jury with the Egyptian actors Khaled Abul-Naga and Menna Shalabi.

This round of the festival had very good potential as a new start; however, there were a few problems. Unfortunately we refused to award most of the prizes such as the best director, the best screenplay and the best artistic contribution, because we felt that there were not enough good films. We also gave, in the jury’s verdict, some recommendations that it may be helpful to consider in the near future, like establishing a development and post-production fund as an extension of the CFC project, enabling the festival to find high quality works from the region. We acknowledge that without the effort that has been done in two months the festival wouldn’t have existed, but we really felt that we needed to give our advice.

If we consider the bigger picture we must think of the developing funds in the region like Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Doha. Egypt was always a switchboard or a crossroads between countries so the historic mission of Egypt has always been to be the place where all different ideas and currents meet and connect. That is a very big challenge because it includes the market anchor. And in that case you would open up Cairo to the world.

In this sense there is enormous potential for this festival. I have been here so many times but this time I feel this is a new Egypt, because it is much younger Egypt. I am sure there is big potential in the festival and the industry. It has seen a lot of twists and turns in the past two decades and every time the new start of the industry comes with capitals from abroad, specifically from the Gulf region; what I felt here is that there is a young generation of producers between 30 and 40 with fresh ideas; however, with what I have seen happening here in the festival, with this kind of censorship, how many beautiful projects could be prevented from seeing the light?

I went to Tahrir Square last week, on Tuesday and on Friday. I saw many films about the 18 days of the revolution and I thought I would see a spontaneous movement in the square. I found out that there is a very different crosssection of people, the bourgeoisie from Heliopolis and Zamalek, and I was really impressed to see a lot of Sa’idies wearing their traditional costume. After a while I felt there was a sense of direction and a certain quality of organisation. I went there with the Canadian-Iranian director Babak Payami. He had tears in his eyes; he kept thinking if this can happen here in Egypt, then the impact may go far beyond across the border to his homeland, Iran.

Because of what is happening, the various political forces are getting more and more organised and finally getting together. This may lead to a valuable alternative. This may lead to a government of national unity with the secular forces. If my calculation is right, from what I have seen in the streets and the square and what I know, the Islamists are not the majority. The revolution is young, this means it is led by young people. How can they suppress those young people? How can they tell them to adopt a dress code and way of life that never belonged to them? Althawra Mostamera!

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