At a press conference on Monday, a new round of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF, 2-10 December) was announced. According to festival director Mohamed Hefzy, “The programming team is proud to present a selection of the year’s most anticipated films to a huge audience of film critics and cinephiles in Cairo alongside the various activities of Cairo Industry Days, which offer film professionals a special space to connect with the international filmmaking community.”
Present at the conference, along with Hefzy, were festival conference The press conference was attended by Mohamed Hefzy, Festival president, Omar Kassem, executive director, Aliaa Zaky, Cairo Film Connection manager Meriam Deghedi, CIFF artistic office coordinator Andrew Mohsen, Cinema of Tomorrow director, Ossama Abdel Fattah, International Critics Week director, and Horizon of Arab Cinema director Ramy Abdel Razik.
One of the first festivals around the world to hold a physical round since the outbreak of Civid 19, CIFF also provides for some virtual/online activities to accommodate restrictions on travel. A safety protocol adhering to World Health Organization (WHO) measures has been set up.
One of this year’s highlights is the MENA premiere of Florian Zeller’s The Father, starring Academy Award winners Sir Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, at the Cairo Opera House. Written by Christopher Hampton, a recipient of CIFF’s Golden Pyramid Lifetime Achievement Award this year, the film won awards at the at Telluride, Toronto and Zurich film festivals.
CIFF 42nd edition
For his part Hampton won an Academy award for Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and was nominated for another for Atonement (2007). He was also nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. Other Lifetime Achievement Award recipients include screenwriter Wahid Hamid, who having written some 40 films and 30 television shows won all three of the state’s highest honours: the Nile Prize, the State Appreciation Prize and the State Prize for Excellence in Arts. The Faten Hamama Excellence Award goes to award-winning film star Mona Zaki, a prolific and versatile performer with many iconic roles to her name.
A relatively small, Covid-adjusted programme of 83 films (67 features) includes 13 world, seven international and 52 MENA premieres. Headed by Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov, the jury brings together German filmmaker Burhan Qurbani, Egyptian producer Gaby Khoury, Brazilian producer Karim Ainouz, Egyptian film star Lebleba, Mexican film star Naian Gonzalez Norvind and Palestinian filmmaker Najwa Najjar.
This round is marked by a record number of Egyptian films, however: Curfew by Amir Ramses, About Her by Islam Azzazi and Mayye Zayed’s documentary Lift Like a Girl in the official competition; and Nesrine El-Zayat documentary On the Fence in the Horizons of Arab Cinema competition; as well as three short films in the Cinema of Tomorrow competition: Sunday at Five by Sherif El-Bendary, Henet Ward by Morad Mostafa andThe Man Who Swallowed the Radio by Yasser Shafie. This, in addition to the Cuban production Isabel by the Egyptian filmmaker Sara El-Shazly and two shorts being screened out of competition: the Palme d’Or winner I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face by Sameh Alaa, and About a Girl by Marwan Nabil. Another feature film, Mahmoud Kamel’s Ammar, will also be screened in the Midnight Screenings section out of competition.
Competitors for the four Horizons of Arab Cinema awards – the Saad Eldin Wahba Award for Best Arabic Film, the Salah Abu Seif Award for Best Artistic Contribution, the Best Non-Fiction Film Award and the Best Acting Performance Award – also include the Lebanese films Under the Concrete by Roy Arida and and We Are from There by Wissam Tanios, the Saudi film The Tambour of Retribution by Abdulaziz Alshlahei, the Moroccan films The Fall of Apples Trees by Mohamed Mouftakir and The Morphine Melody by Hicham Amal.
With a new, CIFF logo-centred poster inspired by the myth of Osiris, the 42nd CIFF is introducing new cash prizes in addition to the existing Youssef Cherif Rizkallah Award (Audience) Award ($15,000) presented by BADYÃ BY PALM HILLS and the Best Arab Film Award ($10,000) in the official, Arab Horizons and Critics Week competitions presented by Speed Lab : the Youssef Chahine Award for Best Short Film in the Cinema of Tomorrow competition ($5,000) presented by Watch It digital Platform; the NUT Award for the best film featuring women in the official competition ($10,000) presented by the Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF); an award for the best film on human trafficking, presented by The National Coordinating Committee for Preventing and Combating Illegal migration and human trafficking (NCCPIMTIP).
A special celebration of Federico Fellini’s birth centenary held in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute features an exhibition of behind-the-scenes paraphernalia and screenings of Selma Dell’Olio’s documentary Fellini of the Spirits as well as restored copies of Fellini’s four best-known films: Nights of Cabiria (1957), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 ½ (1963), and Juliet of the Spirits (1965).
In the framework of the Cairo Industry Days (4-7 December), the seventh Cairo Film Connection is offering 21 awards from 18 film entities, amounting to $250,000 whether cash or in kind. Its selection committee of key industry professionals chose 15 out of 105 submissions from 12 Arab countries in development and in post-production. According to CFC manager Meriame Deghedi, “We are honoured to see filmmakers and industry professionals declaring the Cairo Film Connection a success year after year. For six years it has played a seminal role in supporting the Arab film industry, and this is clear in the quality of this year’s submissions and selections and the value of awards presented, the highest ever.”
Seven feature narratives in-development have been selected, including four projects from Egypt: The Legend of Zainab and Noah by Yousry Nasrallah, I Can Hear Your Voice Still by Sameh Alaa, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner by Mohamed Samir, Snow White by Miral El Fakharany, in addition to Passage (Syria) by Amr Ali, Fog (Iraq/Lebanon) by Ruba Atiyeh and Scheherazade Goes Silent (Palestine/Jordan) by Amira Diab. The post-production section includes only one feature narrative project: The Alleys by Bassel Ghandour (Jordan).
The documentary films selected include four in-development projects: Olaf’s Daughters (Tunisia) by Kaouther Ben Hania, Flying like a Bird (Morocco) by El Mahdi Lyoubi, Tell Them about Us (Jordan-Germany) by Rand Beiruty and Ceasar (Jordan-USA) by Widad Shafakoj. It also includes three documentaries in post-production; Before The Final Picture (Egypt) by Ayat Alla Youssef, The Last Projectionist (Palestine-German) by Alex Bakri and Iraq Invisible Beauty (Iraq-Belgium-France) by Sahim Omar.
The Cairo Film Connection Jury is made up of Jordanian actress and producer Saba Mubarak, Moroccan producer Lamia Chraibi and Egyptian director Abubakr Shawky.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly