In an effort to encourage low-budget, independent films, the British Council in Cairo once again hosted its annual Independent Film Festival last week, showcasing movies by both young Egyptian and British filmmakers in two consecutive evenings.
Although British filmmaker Mark Bishop planned to bring a diverse selection of short independent UK films to the fest, the screened films were mostly dark and intense.
“It seems that the movies winning awards these days are serious and dark, that is why filmmakers opt for making those types of films, he said, “it’s very difficult to find independent comedy films.
Bishop encouraged the British Council to hold regular competitions for independent filmmakers, namely 90-second films, to spark a range of ideas and support the underground scene.
The Egyptian films screenings kicked off with Mohamed Owida’s “Kam Anta Gamil (How Sweet You Are), a somber story about losing hope. The protagonist is a hopeless artist whose desperation propels him to create a wooden doll that serves as a mirror for his own unavailing life. They read, eat and paint together but when the doll acts like the artists’ conscience, it is crushed to the ground, the same ground the artist buries himself under.
Emad Mabrouk’s “Loun El-Hayat (The Color of Life) tells the story of Hayat, a devoted, courageous woman overcoming the loss of her significant other, Nabil, who died in a car accident a few years back. She is haunted by the tragic calamity that left her crippled, living alone in her an apartment fractured and hollow like herself. For several years, she visits his grave on the anniversary of the accident, accompanied by her friends, Mary and Maged, who appear to have been in the same car but came out unharmed.
In the opening scene Mary suggests they refrain from their annual visit; Hayat dismisses her proposal. While her love for Nabil lingers, her bereavement is alleviated. After the visit, she puts on an orange dress, puts aside her crutches and stands in her balcony with a hopeful gaze into the future.
On a different note, “Al Shakhs (The Who) charts the artistic journey of its director, Mohamed Fathalla, from his interest in music and dancing to lighting and filmmaking, conceived in a seemingly amateur production.
Arguably the best offering of the selection is Mohammed Shawky’s “Donia Tanya (Alter World), a tender story about a little boy’s fascination with robots and his struggle with a mother still grieving over her dead husband. The dreamy, alien world makes the boy lag behind in school and deprives him of his mother’s affection.
While the mother stays up all night aching for the loss of her husband as she spreads his clothes next to her on the bed, in an adjacent room, the boy spends his evenings creating robots out of cardboard and writing letters to his father, as if keeping a journal in another life. Although the boy and his mother seem miles apart during the larger portion of the movie, they belong to a similar world, one that is only imagined.
On the festival’s second night, four Arabic movies were shown. The first, and most notable of which, was “Aswat (Voices), a 44-minute documentary about renowned late Egyptian poets Fouad Haddad’s and Salah Jahine’s entwined families and the legacy they are determined to carry.
In the film, children and grandchildren of the poets reminisce, telling heartfelt stories about their courage, resistance and most importantly, love for Egypt.
Perhaps Director Dina Hamza’s most noteworthy feat was making her subjects in the film forget there was a camera rolling, maintaining a sense of intimacy and comfort of an ordinary familial conversation.
Displaying Egyptian pride at its best, Amin Fouad Haddad says they are determined to carry on his father’s as well as Jahine’s legacy.
“They were the first to say ‘Egypt,’ and we followed. They were the first to say ‘Nation,’ and we followed.
Another heartfelt story was Ahmed Haddad’s “Kol El Banat Betheb El Chocalata (All Girls Love Chocolate), a 30-minute film that follows the life of Samia (played by singer Anoushka), a middle-aged wife longing for attention from a husband, and a daughter, who are both wrapped up in their own lives. Her cry for attention takes the shape of a chocolate craving.
She coincidentally receives a batch of chocolate from a stranger which she later shares with her daughter and her teenage friends. “Chocolate is the key to honesty, she says.
The five ladies bond as they indulge their sense in the taste of the chocolate bars, each revealing a deep secret about herself, from the tomboy who desires to feel dainty, the overweight girl who is under constant pressure to lose weight, and the girl whose shyness is often mistaken for arrogance.
The most controversial of the bunch was “Minerva, directed by Mark Lotfy, who tackles two of the most foreboding taboos in Egypt – religion and sex. The film tells the story of a girl tried for the murder of the man we are led to believe is her father, with whom she had an incestuous relationship.
The film also dabbles with philosophical questions regarding the meaning of existence and perception.
Because it hits such sensitive chords, according to Lotfy, the censorship authority refused to pass the film. He claimed that independent films have become a “friend of the government, citing a lack in freedom of expression especially in arts.
The festival concluded with “Exit. The film starts with a scene of a man and a woman in their 20s, sitting in a dark apartment, with the woman crying. A caption reads, “Behind every door is a story.
The film then takes us through the couple’s day, detailing the events that eventually led them to that apartment. Through the 15-minute movie, you get to know both characters and sympathize with them.
The film leaves you with the impression that indeed, behind every door is a story; it’s just not the story you assume it is.