The Cairo International Film Festival ended its 36th year with a glitzy ceremony [pictured] below the ancient pyramids on Tuesday. 

In an attempt to move forward from previous years when films were overshadowed by protests, or when the festival was altogether cancelled in both 2011 and 2013 due to political upheaval, the Minister of Culture, Gaber Asfour announced “this festival is a fresh new start.”

From actresses Basma Hassan, Lyla Elwi and Ghada Abdel Razek, actors Mahmoud Hemida, Asser Yasin and Tamer Habib to filmmakers Mossad Fouda and Khaled Youssef, a bevy of Egypt’s notable talent were present to help celebrate the conclusion of the ten day event that opened on Nov 9 at the historic Citadel.

From the main sections Film on Films, Festival of Festivals, Special Presentations, International Competition - 45 films screened as Arab and African Premieres, 5 as World Premieres and 4 as International Premieres. Yousra headed the international competition jury, marking the first time the festival had both a female and an Egyptian as Jury President.    

The screen icon, along with eight additional jury members, awarded Iranian drama Melbourne with the Golden Pyramid as best picture, Margarita Manta as best director for Greece’s Forever, Adele Haenel as best actress in France’s Love at First Fight, Egypt’s Khaled Abol Naga for best actor in the Palestinian Oscar contender Eyes of a Thief, Alê Abreu for best screenplay for the animated Brazilian feature The Boy and The World and Zaki Aref for best artistic contribution for Egypt’s world premiere Gates of Departure.   

The Fipresci Award was given to Sand Dollars, directed by husband and wife Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman.

Festival revamped

Esteemed film critic Samir Farid, stepping in as the festival’s new president, continued with change by introducing parallel programmes that were independent of the festival: Perspective of Arab Cinema (run by Egyptian Filmmakers Syndicate), Critics Week (run by Egyptian Film Writers and Critics Association) and International Cinema of Tomorrow (run by the Student Union at Cairo’s High Cinema Institute, inclusive of both a short film and student film competition).

The Arab Cinema special prize went to Naji Abou Nawar’s Theeb, while the Saadeldin Wahba Award was given to Kamal Kamal’s Moroccan Sotto and the Salah Abou Seif Award was handed to Lebanon’s Zeina Daccache for Shahrazad’s Diary.

International Critics Week praised Serbian Vuk Rsumovic’s No One’s Child by awarding the film with the Shadi Abd El Salam prize along with Tinatin Kajrishvili’s Brides that won the Fathy Farag Award for best artistic contribution.

Young scriptwriters were awarded with a host of awards by the High Cinema Institute’s Student Union, including Best Script to Sherif El Zohairy for Qanun Al Tafo

Short films also stacked up awards, with the best student film award handed to Finland’s Cilla Werning for Sentra and The Talking Trees and the best short film award given to Brazil’s Fauston Da Silva for My Friend Nietzsche

The festival’s diverse line-up of 150 films represented 50 countries, in addition to a cultural programme inspired by the Rome International Film Festival. A tribute to Greek cinema and classical films was also featured in the programme.

Despite the difficulties in obtaining world premieres because of a lack of budget, the Director of Film Programming Joseph Fahim said they worked diligently in securing a wide range of films with the consent of the over-riding governing body, The Ministry of Culture.

“Though films must not reflect negatively on religion, we had, for the most part, free reign with censorship laws. As a first, we screened films such as Godard’s Goodbye to Language and the Dominican Republic’s Sand Dollars that involves a relationship between two women. These screenings were completely full and mandated a third screening, showing there is a demand for all types of content,” said Fahim.

Pushing prestige and notable filmmakers, the festival opened with Fatih Akin’s immigration drama The Cut and closed with Mikra Anglia’s epic saga Little England, that is also positioned as Greece’s Oscar candidate.

On the flip side - a nod was given to the likes of Egypt’s legendary director and producer Henry Barakat, as well as the Naguib Mahfouz Lifetime Achievement Awards given to Noureddine Sail for his contribution to Moroccan film and television, Nadia Lutfi for her work as one of the country’s pillars of the Golden Age of Egyptian Cinema and Volker Schlondorff for his directorial role amidst the New German Cinema movement.

Films were screened at the prestigious Opera House on seven cinema screens, using DCP formats comported to previous years which included DVD formats. Also different, tickets were reduced in price to 20 EGP, and further halved for students, while cinema sections including Greek and classic films were free.   

The vast array of changes proved effective as an estimated 1000 tickets a day were sold, more than double what was sold in 2012.

“I wanted to create 10 days where the Egyptian public could enjoy film (and culture), something that would help distract from the sadness that we suffer. We are in a war, and people want something else to think about,” said Farid.

Mohamed Samir, also new to the festival as artistic director, reiterated, “I want to live in a country that has a major festival that serves the industry, where real cinema lovers come and watch international films – altogether bringing the idea of a liberal Egypt. When things are in the right hands like Samir Farid, we can produce a good festival.”