No. 5, Fall/Winter2000

Special Issue:
The Arab World

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Cairo Film Festival Growing

by TBS Contributing Editor Janet Fine

CAIRO: Although the official theme was "romance," it was the specter of Palestinian suffering and the Al-Aqsa Intifada that dominated opening night of the 24th International Cairo Film Festival (Nov. 7-19). Symbolic of the increasing convergence between broadcasting and the film industry was the collection of Palestinian documentaries packaged for the opening night's special "Tribute to the Palestinian Martyrs" by the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation.

"Perhaps we could have waited for the 'romance' theme to coincide with next year's silver jubilee 25th year celebration (to be held Oct. 10-20), due to the current political situation," said Cairo Festival president and popular actor Hussein Fahmy. "But we were very much in a hurry since there are older directors and actors, much like monuments, such as Michelangelo Antonioni, who was honored at the closing ceremonies." Earlier the 83-year-old Antonioni and his wife had visited the pyramids, and he mentioned possibly using Egypt as a backdrop for his next film. Other international film stars honored in the thematic context of "romance" were Sophia Loren and Ornella Motti.

"This is a 'five year' plan for the festival," said Fahmy. "This year we introduced 'Dogma' to Egyptian audiences, and opened the festival with 'Dancer in The Dark' to a fantastic reaction. Due to the early onset of the Ramadan fasting month, the festival began earlier, so we could have only one new Egyptian film; the rest were in pre-production. We hope to have a more inclusive market next year with more TV companies attending, since most Egyptian films are pre-sold but TV networks are looking for films to buy."

The jury, headed by British director Roland Joffe, whose company produces the popular MTV spoof "Undressed" and who is currently completing a comic novel, said that the region's present crisis brought out his latent one-time interest of becoming a diplomat.

"I feel the current conflict between Israel and Palestine is necessary, since the situation, which began at the end of the l9th century in a maze of colonialism, ultimately adds strength to both sides. Cairo is an extremely important festival in this region. But I see a need for more participation of young directors, writers, and actors through various outlets like workshops and international exchanges so that a more informed generation can develop the Arab film market and take control."

The jury awarded the top prize, the Golden Pyramid, to the Chinese film "Sigh" by Feng Laogang. The film swept the awards (much to the delight of the 13-strong Chinese delegation), winning best actress for Liu Pei (shared by French actress Dominque Blanc of "Stand By"), best actor for Zhang Guoli, and best script for Wang Shuo. The controversial Egyptian film "The Storm" by first-time director Khaled Yossef divided audiences with its anti-American theme—ending with burning the American flag—and won both the second prize Silver Pyramid and the Best Arabic Picture (it was the only Arabic picture in competition) cash prize of LE100,000 (about $26,000). "Fiasco" by Ragnar Bragason got the Jury Prize, and Korean director Moon Chang won first-time director prize for his film "Happy Funeral."

Hussein Kalla, president of major sponsor Al Arabia Cinema Distribution company, said that this year Egyptian films made more than LE55 million ($14.5 million) with ten new films, bringing hope to the declining industry for a new generation for Egyptian films. The four-month-old company currently has seven films in production and has just bought the 35-theater Renaissance chain. Added Mohammed Ramzy, chairman of Nasr Film, "Egyptian directors are targeting a younger audience, paying more for production, and this year our hit film 'Headmaster' made about $3 million."

The festival's "romance" theme ended with a closing party in a heart-decorated ballroom at the Mena House hotel, sponsored by the beverage company Al Ahram, which provided Egypt's revitalized wines from the 100-year-old Gianaclis vineyards. Perhaps with the reviving Egyptian film audiences, there may indeed be something to toast. TBS

Copyright 2000 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo