On the first official day of the 31st Cairo International Film Festival, the audience was treated to an unpleasant surprise when a couple of minutes into “Rendition, they discovered that the movie projector was showing the wrong film.
The audience spotted the mistake immediately and cried for the theater workers to play the correct film. The festival representatives promised that the anticipated film would be ready to screen in 10 minutes. An hour and a half later, it was playing on the big screen, but by that time, the audience had grown irreconcilably disgruntled.
The theater workers said they were given the wrong film by festival officials and they had to fetch a copy of “Rendition from God knows where.
Instead of wasting an hour and a half of viewers’ time, the festival representatives would have been better off telling the audience how much time they would actually need to get the right film on the reel. When it was finally screened, Peter Finch’s infamous speech in Sydney Lumet’s “Network echoed loudly in my head: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.
The “Rendition debacle was only the beginning of many mishaps that occurred over the remaining nine days of the festival.
Few people were more excited than me about the 31st edition of the largest film event of the year. While the there were less high-profile films than previous years, there were enough promising features to entice true cinema lovers.
The Romanian cinema sidebar proved to be the most innovative and clever move. Cannes winners “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and “California Dreamin’ were the highlights of the festival. The entire section was as stirring as it was insightful. Romanian cinema is currently the hottest in the world, and the festival’s artistic department was clever to capitalize on its growing popularity.
The Moroccan sidebar was another highlight. The artistic merits of the featured films varied but the section as a whole was enlightening, and Moroccan cinema proved to be a force to reckon with.
Apart from a few films scattered in the festival’s different sections – such as “Battle of Haditha – the larger part of this year’s selected films ranged from below average to mediocre. The films that stood out as truly great were few and far between, and at one point, the whole thing seemed inconsequential.
Every major festival in the world can suffer from a poor selection of films.
Cannes, the biggest film festival in the world, suffered from a state of lull for the first part of this decade before making a strong comeback in the last couple of years. Venice, Toronto, Berlin and even New York, the most selective of the bunch, suffered the same syndrome.
Yet, the Cairo festival miraculously managed to present such a dire selection in a year of great pictures – which were featured in major festivals as well as in the international film marketplace – a hiatus which other festivals did not experience.On another note, the organization this year was nothing short of a travesty. The independent press boycotted the festival in response to the lack of transparency by the festival committee.
The event s press office previously told Daily News Egypt that the opening ceremony invitations fiasco was a matter of misunderstanding and disorganization. However, this explanation was never articulated into an official statement to clear the air, which led a number of publications to continue shunning the festival.
Several films like Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs and the Italian competition entry “Me the Other were replaced with other films without an announcement. Due to technical problems, some films such as “And When Did You Last See Your Father? and “Ararat 14 Views stopped midway during screening. And the mistakes of film moderators, who often imposed their own opinion on the audience, were too many to forgive.
The largest of the festival’s numerous glitches occurred during the second screening of Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Atef’s “El Ghaba (Demons of Cairo).
The festival personnel failed to notify the general public that the special screening was restricted to the film crew and selected critics by invitation only. Regular audiences learned this only after being pushed and kicked by the Artistic Creativity Center’s guards. The aggression with which film fans were treated was almost life-threatenting.
Little was done to publicize the international stars attending the festival, so it was not surprising to find the Harvey Keitel and Quincy Jones’ press conferences half empty.
As for Nicolas Roeg, one of the icons of British cinema, the festival didn’t even bother to provide sufficient information about his stature in the industry. And the media center was a joke. Daily News Egypt attempted to interview Roeg and was given an appointment at Good News Cinema. An hour after the set time, the person who arranged the appointment failed to answer phone calls or apologize. The same happened a few days later with another publication, and the great filmmaker came and left the country without being interviewed by a single media outlet.
The integrity or work ethic of Festival President Ezzat Abou Ouf is not being questioned here, nor is the artistic direction of Yousef Sherif Rizkalla. They certainly cannot be blamed for all of the festival’s failures. The former is a better successor to the last president Sherif El Choubashy who worked with a dictator-like mentality, refusing to accept any criticism.
The prevailing setbacks that continue to hamper the festival cannot be overlooked. The Egyptian press will always be drawn to Arabic and Egyptian films, ignoring the rest. Their embarrassing, irrelevant questions have become a staple of the festival.
Local and international distributors’ reluctance to supply the festival with high-profile films is a major problem. Similarly, local distributors are unwilling to purchase featured films to be screened later, deeming the notion of the festival as a film market, somehow impotent.
The fact is, the festival is unable to come up with creative solutions to these problems. The event in its entirety needs to be revamped, not just the opening ceremony.
CIFF lacks a fresh perspective. The sold-out screenings of non-commercial films such as “4 Months are proof that there exists an audience hungry for art films, a number that is growing every year. There isn’t a single Middle East festival, including filthy-rich Dubai, with more potential in the near future than Cairo’s.
British actor Jason Flemyng noted that the Cairo audiences are more receptive to specialty films than viewers in other Arab countries. It would be naïve for the festival to overlook this fact.
The festival is also still operating bureaucratically, relying on local media to cover the festival when what they should be targeting is foreign media outlets like Senses of Cinema and Cahiers du Cinema, which cover less significant festivals. This cannot be done with the same zero-marketing, zero-research approach, and it needs much pre-planning.
First, the festival must fix the cracked infrastructure responsible for this year’s numerous blunders. They must reinvent themselves, revolutionize their strategy and prepare to face the stern competition from emerging festivals in the region.