Cairo International Film Festival kicks off in style

Joseph Fahim
6 Min Read

Festival celebrates world stars in a simple, elegant ceremony

CAIRO: Amid a blaze of fireworks and a soundtrack of dreamy classic American tunes, the 30th Cairo International Film Festival opened yesterday at the Cairo Opera House.

If it was glamour the connoisseurs of festivals past wanted, it was glamour they got – and then some.

In fact, glamour was the main distinguishing aspect of this year s opening ceremony, which was preceded by a long, glossy red Cannes-like carpet on which paraded only the stars of Egypt and the other 57 participating countries in the festival.

The ceremony started with a short documentary about the festival’s history, all its previous presidents, major guests and central events. The documentary, directed by Inas Al-Degheidy, was the only weak point of the ceremony.

Lame, embarrassing and, at times, pointless, the documentary felt like one big plea for respect and attention.

After the film ended, the gigantic screen was pulled up to show legendary Egyptian actor and honorary president of the festival, Omar El-Sherif standing in the center of the stage to introduce the festival s new President Ezzat Abo Ouf.

The actor gave a fine, short speech about the importance of the festival to Egypt and his new role as its president.

I ve played numerous roles in my career but this, by far, is the hardest role I ve ever played, Abo Ouf said before introducing Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni to inaugurate this year s fest.

Actors Mahmoud Abdel Aziz and Youssra, cinematographer Saeed El-Sheemy and music composer Omar Khairat were the Egyptian stars honored yesterday for their long, illustrious careers, receiving the biggest and warmest reception of the night.

The international honorees, headed by American actor Danny Glover, were presented next.

Dressed in traditional colorful Egyptian overgarment (abaya), he accepted his award by giving an impersonal speech in which he addressed the topic of cultural diversity and how the festival should represent an opportunity for Egyptians to celebrate their enormous contribution to cinema.

It was great British actress Jacqueline Bisset though who swept the audience off their feet by her beauty and charm. Bisset expressed her gratitude to the hosting nation and said that her experience with Egypt is a dream that s beginning.

Bisset added, I hope to see the ordinary stuff too, the ordinary life, and I hope to learn something because I m sure there s a lot to learn.

Argentinean director and head of the international competition jury, Luis Puenzo, was next, followed by the celebrated French singer and actor Charles Aznavour whose playful speech drew the biggest laughs of the night.

Finally, young Argentinean actress Mía Maestro introduced the festival s guest of honor, Latin America, describing the region s filmmakers as a bizarre group that fights so hard to get each film on its feet. She added, A group whose first priority is the story that s being told and the vision of its director.

Before the end of the ceremony, Maestro presented the opening Brazilian film 2 Filhos de Francisco (Two Sons of Francisco).

As projected earlier, Francisco turned out to be the best opening film of the festival in recent years.

Brazil s highest grossing film in 25 years is no masterpiece or as cinematically significant as other contemporary Brazilian movies like City of God.

The film is essentially a simple, beautiful crowd-pleasing true success story of country music duo Zeze di Camargo and Luciano who went from living in a ragged 60s poverty-stricken Brazil to selling 25 million copies by the end of the last decade.

By choosing to concentrate on Zeze s struggles and declining to show the next prosperous phase of his life, Breno Silveira succeeded in avoiding the trap of creating another standard Hollywood-like biopic.

Everything in the film feels authentic and realistic and the magical moments of the film never feel fake or unbelievable, and that s perhaps what has made the film the monstrous hit it has become in Brazil despite the rushed character development and other minor flaws.

Overall, the festival s opening ceremony was a massive improvement over the mess that was last year s ceremony.

The organization was spot-on and the sense of warmth and familiarity was palpable throughout the celebration. It s too early to predict how this year s festival will end, but judging by the opening ceremony, we might be headed for something special indeed.

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