CAIRO: Amid what have become the signature fireworks sparkling above a glamorous red carpet and the sounds of soothing American classics, the 31st Cairo International Film Festival kicked off with a simple opening ceremony that succeeded in averting the missteps of the last few years.
The ceremony commenced as the red curtain of the Cairo Opera House’s Main Hall rose to reveal Egyptian comedian Ahmed Helmy. The “Keda Reda star’s effortless sense of humor drew laughs from the audience as he recounted his long journey to the Opera House stage.
Helmy shamelessly declared that his bad English was the main reason behind his reluctance to participate in the ceremony. He delivered the biggest punch line by declaring that his English is so bad, he enrolled in a school to learn the language only to discover weeks later that he was actually taking French lessons.
The comedian then presented the festival’s Honorary President Omar Sharif, who followed Helmy’s humorous streak.
“In all the ceremonies, you find all the stars in the audience and all the boring people on stage, the legendary Egyptian star joked.
Sharif expressed his gratitude for the festival’s sponsors Mobinil for “giving us money to invite all these wonderful people and to look after them. In an embarrassing moment that went largely unnoticed, Sharif confused the name of the honored American star Matt Dillon with Matt Damon.
As revered as Sharif is, the rest of his speech felt out of place with pleads for international help in removing Egypt’s landmines. Sharif told the audience to mention the landmine problem of El Alamein wherever they go. “We need technical help and a little bit of funding.
He concluded his short speech with: “We [Egyptians] don’t kill people. We love everyone. We hug everyone we see, even the ugly ones.
Sharif then invited actor and Festival President Ezzat Abou Ouf on stage. We’re gathered here to honor the filmmakers who spend their lives creating fiction that helps us understand and find meaning in these times, Abou Ouf said in his eloquent speech.
“It’s for those [people] I stand here tonight, for those who make us laugh, think and cry. And for those who entirely alter our existence.
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni took the stage afterwards to inaugurate the 31st round.
Actors Tamer Hagras and Boshra presented the jury members of the digital film competition, the Arab film competition and the main international competition. The latter is headed by the great British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg (“Don’t Look Now, “Walkabout ) whose presence and stature failed to stir an exciting reaction from attendants.
Daughter of Egyptian comedy pioneer Naguib El Rihany graced the stage to accept the award dedicated to her late father. Gushing in tears, El Rihany’s daughter said, “It’s the most wonderful day of my life. Thank you that you still love him [El Rihany] so much.
The Egyptian honored artists were presented next. Music composer Rageh Dawood, film critic Ahmed Saleh, scriptwriter Moustafa Moharam, actor Ahmed Ramzy (who didn’t attend the ceremony, leaving his friend Sharif to accept the award on his behalf), actor Nour El Sherif and actress Nabila Ebeid were received with warm applause from the audience.
Academy-award nominee Hugh Hudson (“Chariots of Fire ) headed the foreign artist honorees. Next up was American model, athlete, motivational speaker and actress Aimee Mullins, a bilateral amputee who recently began her film career.
Greeted by waves of applause, Academy Award nominee Matt Dillon took the stage to receive his award without having the chance to give a speech as accustomed.
The star of this year’s edition Harvey Keitel appeared charming and humbled by his award while accepting it.
“Al Salamo Alikom, he began his speech. “Although it’s my first time in Egypt, I know all of you from your culture, your poetry, your architecture, your mythology.
He expressed the utter state of bafflement he fell under when visiting the Sphinx, which led him to ponder: “Why am I here? Where am I going? What am I going to do with my life?
Further expressing his almost-religious reverence to the Sphinx, the Jewish actor reiterated his faith as he concluded his speech.
Before the end of the ceremony, Abou Ouf invited Secretary General of the CICT/Unesco Giulio Cesare Giordano to present Minister Hosni with the organization’s life-time achievement award for “his work for the media, arts and humanity in general.
“It’s about time, Hosni joked after thanking the organization and drawing the curtain over the first part of the ceremony.
The second part featured the opening film “Death at a Funeral, a British black comedy directed by American filmmaker Frank Oz. As entertaining as the film was, the opening ceremony should have used a weightier picture with more high-profile stars.
Overall, the ceremony was a palpable success. The one issue marring it is the disinclination of the festival committee to grant sufficient invitations for the press. The lack of organization and increasing shadiness regarding this particular issue led Channel 2 s television program El Beit Beitak to report this fiasco shortly after the end of the show and criticize the committee’s lack of transparency.