CAIRO: An expansive flurry of fireworks, accompanied by a group of bald silver-painted ladies and a hotel lobby tribute band, greeted tens of guests from more than 70 nations arriving for the opening ceremony of the Cairo International Film Festival’s 33rd edition, which kicked off Tuesday night.
Clocking in at under 80 minutes, the 2009 opening ceremony, held at the Cairo Opera House, is the shortest in the fest’s recent history, thanks to a substantial reduction in the number of speeches.
Egyptian actress Nadia El-Guindy was gasping for air as she thanked the audience and paid tribute to Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni’s UNESCO bid. Hollywood actress Salma Hayek, on the other hand, described Egypt as her “good luck charm.
The simple ceremony commenced with a little dance number, designed by Lebanese choreographer Walid Aouni, featuring three of the aforementioned bald women, dressed in red, blue and green, representing the RGB/additive color model.
The ceremony’s hosts, actors Donia Samir Ghanem and Amr Waked, presented the festival president, Ezzat Abou Ouf, who began his speech by announcing that the fest’s honorary president, screen legend Omar Sharif, wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony “due to previous engagement in Paris.
“I welcome you all in Cairo to celebrate another year of magic, Abou Ouf said. “Every year, we choose a country to shine a spotlight on their cinema. This year, allow me to welcome one of the biggest cinema makers in the world, our dear friends from India.
The Digital Competition for Feature Films jury, headed by Nigerian director Victor Okhai, were presented next, followed by the Arab Competition jury, headed by veteran Egyptian actor Yehia El-Fakharany, and the International Competition jury, headed by eminent Indian director Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
India’s ambassador to Egypt, R. Swaminathan, was then invited on stage. “We are greatly honored by the invitation extended to India as the guest country of the festival, the ambassador said.
Indian cinema has enjoyed immense popularity in Egypt since the 1960s, since Raj Kapoor’s ‘Sangam’ captured the hearts of many Egyptians. Thereafter, the films of Amitabh Bachchan gained a huge following. Let me assure you that we have many talented actors and directors in India, and the films screened in the festival are a testimony to that, Swaminathan added.
Egypt’s Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, followed Swaminathan to inaugurate the 33rd edition and dedicate it to late great Egyptian filmmaker Shadi Abdel Salam. Abdel Salam’s sister, Mahiba, received a special award on behalf of her brother for his contribution to Egyptian cinema.
The Indian honorees of this year’s edition – Gopalakrishnan, prominent film producer Boney Kapoor and actress Sridevi Kapoor – were unveiled next followed by the Arab and Egyptian honorees – Algerian director Ahmed Rachdi, Egyptian film editor Ahmad Metwalli, Egyptian DOP Mohsen Nasr, Egyptian filmmaker Ali Abdel Khaliq, great Egyptian comedienne Shouweikar and Egyptian box-office queen, Nadia El-Guindy.
“It’s a great privilege to be honored in the Cairo International Film Festival, “El Guindy, gasping for breath, said. “I tried to give my life to art and my art to life. I now feel that every moment I lived as an artist and a producer had a value. I want to thank the Egyptian audience who granted me more than I dreamt of. I want to thank my peers whom I learned. I want to thank the critics who objectively criticized me.
“And if you’ll allow me, on behalf of all Egyptian artists, I’d like to thank the Minister of Egyptian Culture, Farouk Hosni, who gave a lot to arts and culture in Egypt, and whom I personally learned from to be courageous and responsible for my actions. He was broken a lot, stumbled occasionally, but he always believed in art and freedom. And in his last battle with the UNESCO, he proved that that the honor of competing is greater than any position, whatever that may possibly be.
Great Italian director Marco Bellocchio was the first of four international stars to receive the lifetime achievement award. Bellocchio declared that the footage screened before his entrance was of a film he did not actually direct.
Lucy Liu, Samuel L. Jackson and Salma Hayek rounded off the last group of honorees.
“Al salam alikom, Hayek said. “I just want to thank the Cairo International Film Festival for honoring me tonight, especially for honoring me in the company of such extraordinary talents. Egypt has always had a special place in my heart and in my career. It was my good luck charm.
“The first film I ever did, it was a Mexican film, it was based on the work of a brilliant Egyptian who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Naguib Mahfouz (“El-Medaq Alley ). I’m very pleased to be here in Egypt again, and I want to thank all of my Egyptian fans because they’re the best. They’re most welcoming, and loving, and I love them.
The 33rd Cairo International Film Festival concludes on Nov. 20.
Cairo International Film Festival’s recommended movies of the dayHeliopolis
Director: Ahmad Abdalla
Starring Khaled Abol Naga, Hany Adel, Yousra El-Lozy and Aida Abdel AzizSynopsis: Ahmad Abdalla’s feature film debut “Heliopolis follows the lives of a host of characters living in the Heliopolis district of Cairo. The movie draws back on the area’s veil of faded grandeur to reveal characters that deepen and broaden any understanding of one of the world’s great cities. If Egypt is complicated, Heliopolis is Exhibit A.
Showing at: Good News Cinema, 9 pm.
Director: Raja Amari
Starring: Hafsia Herzi and Sondos Belhassen
Synopsis: Aicha, Radia and their mother live removed from the world in the underground servant’s quarters of a deserted mansion. The precarious balance of their daily life is shaken by the arrival of a young couple who move into the main house. A bizarre cohabitation settles between the couple and the three women who decide not to make their presence known to these unexpected neighbors. They cannot leave their hiding place as it conceals secrets buried for years
Showing at: Cairo Opera House’s Artistic Creativity Center, 9 pm.
Weekend with my Mother
Director: Stere Gulea
Starring: Medeea Marinescu, Adela Popescu and Tudor Istodor
Synopsis: Fifteen years ago, Luiza decided to make a fresh start in Spain. She left her three-year-old daughter Cristina in the care of her relatives and took off. When she returns to Romania, the woman learns some shocking truths that were kept hidden from her: Cristina ran away from home, is a drug addict and has a two-year-old girl who lives in an orphanage. Overwhelmed by guilt, Luiza attempts to save her daughter and thus redeem the mistakes of her youth.
Showing at: Nile City cinema, 1:30 pm.
Directed by: Pupi Avati
Starring: Silvio Orlando, Francesca Neri and Ezio Greggio
Synopsis: Giovanna is a quiet girl. She’s clearly stressed, withdrawn, not fitting in. So her father does his best to help, cheering her up, encouraging her to think that boys like her. It seems like the proper thing for a parent to do – and after all, Giovanna’s situation isn’t really that uncommon. But nobody really knows how badly she’s hurting, or how desperate and obsessive she has become, until a sudden act of shocking violence tears apart this quiet middle class world.
Showing at: Renaisance (Downtown), 4 pm.