Not even the Khartoum events could’ve saved the Cairo Film Fest. The closing ceremony of the 33rd edition attracted attention for Chairman of the fest Ezzat Abou Ouf and actor Fathy Abdel Wahab s overzealous speeches, for the livid remarks by Egyptian stars, for the protest that never materialized, but not for the movies.
The deserved sweeping victory of Klaus Härö’s “Letters to Father Jacob and Mona Achache’s “The Hedgehog was no surprise; they were the two strongest films in an awfully weak international competition.
The Arabic competition was no different. “Amreeka, a well-made crowd-pleaser, was an easy choice for the jury. Ahmad Abdalla’s “Heliopolis – which deserved one of the competition’s two prizes – and Najwa Najjar’s “Pomegranates and Myrrh aside, the Arab competition didn’t spawn any real revelations.
With thin audience attendance, a near complete absence of non-Arab media, the archetypal organizational calamities and an uninspired, second-rate film selection, the 2009 edition will go down in history as the most inconsequential round of Egypt’s oldest and biggest film festival in recent years.
I’ve said everything that needs to be said about the fest in my CIFF preview article, and I don’t have much to add. Nothing has improved this year; instead, the fest has reached a new unforeseen low. Without going into extraneous details, here’s a list of the defining blunders of this year’s edition:
.An angry Kabir Khan, director of the opening film “New York, proclaimed that the kissing scenes of his film were cut by the Egyptian censors.
.According to our sources, the choice of “New York was entirely the fest’s, who wanted the opening film to be mainstream Bollywood.
.Several directors of films inside and outside the competition didn’t turn up for the fest, including Härö, “Dawn of the World’s Abbas Fahdel (who was in another fest in Rome) and Cherien Dabis, winner of the Arab competition’s best Arabic film and screenplay awards.
.Apart from Egyptian competition entry “Nile Birds, attendance was remarkably low for all international competition films screenings.
.A number of fights broke out throughout the fest, including one at “Heliopolis and another at the Samuel L. Jackson press conference.
.Press members weren’t briefed on the 12 pm press screenings for the Egyptian films. Screenings for “Heliopolis and “Nile Birds had to be cancelled because, naturally, not a single journalist showed up.
.”The Traveler’s director Ahmed Maher wasn’t informed about the inclusion of his film in the festival line-up. The screening was eventually canceled because the copy didn’t arrive on time from Damascus.
.No changes in schedule were updated on the fest’s website.
.”Amreeka’s Palestinian star Nisreen Faour, an Israeli-Arab, wasn’t invited to the festival as she possesses an Israeli passport.
.A day before the opening ceremony, the fest’s president announced on TV that the “Slumgdog Millionaire director will be attending the fest. Danny Boyle was never scheduled to attend the festival.
.The festival market was a ghost town.
In Sunday’s edition of Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, Abou Ouf declared the 33rd edition “his best so far, in terms of international media coverage, organization and quality of films.
I wasn’t surprised by Abou Ouf’s remarks as much as I was appalled.
Abou Ouf and the fest’s organizers are clearly living on a different planet. The fest can never improve if Abou Ouf and his vice president Sohier Abdel Kader – the real figure running the show – continue to adopt this delusionary, self-congratulatory attitude.
Neither the fest president, nor its artistic director, is 100 percent dedicated to the annual event. Abdel Kader, who is at most an administrator, has proven time again to be unfit to take charge of a festival of the CIFF s magnitude.
A complete overhaul of the festival s structure is required for recovery.
But it’s not going to happen and next year, we’ll be back at the same exact place, bemoaning the organization, the mediocer film selection and the overall pointlessness of the whole affair. Only next year, there’ll be fewer people watching.
Cairo deserves better than this.