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My favourite festival
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 11 - 05 - 2017

For three days at the Falaky Theatre, 66 young Egyptian filmmakers participated in the first Masr dot Bokra (or “Egypt dot Tomorrow”) Film Festival (MDBFF, 3-6 May). Specialising in short films, the annual event is the latest of its kind. Having started in 2015 as an online-only short film festival, it breaks into the physical world this year with three competitions: best short film (30 mins maximum), best student film online (20 mins maximum) and best script production.
It was the first of these that was held at the Falaky Theatre, and included animation and documentary as well as fiction films competing for the LE30 thousand award as well as an audience prize of LE10 thousand. The competition was juried by director Ahmed Abdullah, critic Tarek Al Shinawy, and screenwriter Mariam Naoum.
The student film award and the script grant are worth LE15 thousand and LE70 thousand, respectively; the latter, which also grants free access to editing equipment at Semat and Seen Films – the grant's cosponsors – was judged by Mostafa Youssef, Hala Galal and Kismet El-Sayed
My favourite festival
Masr dot Bokra started out as a youth development institution established six years ago by Ali Faramawy, the corporate vice president of Microsoft, with three values in mind: connection, inspiration and development.
“These three elements hold true in our cinematic activity,” Faramawy explains. “This festival aims to celebrate professional and non-professional young Egyptian filmmakers and enthusiasts with fresh perspectives who want to share innovative and groundbreaking films. We create a space for connection between filmmakers and their audience, and in this space they inspire more and more young people to find ways to express themselves. This is how this society and this country could be developed.”
Groundbreaking or not, the MDBFF programme showcased the state of young filmmakers starting their careers now in Egypt, with some being their directors debuts and others reflecting some experience, some emerging out of small production companies and others from workshops or as the graduation projects of study courses; some were their self-taught makers' initiatives. With a great deal of variety – the only condition being length – their quality reflected various levels of educational opportunity enabling artists to express their vision.
Naju Ismael's The Builders and Maged Nader's Fathi Doesn't Live Here Any More had already premiered – at the 2016 Dubai and 2017 Berlin film festivals, respectively. Mazen Lotfy's The Sea had won a number of awards.
Director and critic Ahmed Hassouna, a member of the MDBFF's selection committee, believes that the expanding such platforms is important for enriching the film scene in Egypt and empowering filmmakers. “The films,” he said, “are very diverse in terms of subject, style and even quality, but that is what such a festival is about. That is why you can see a short film that participated in the Dubai or Berlin film festival along with a graduation project in the same programme.”
And indeed, in addition to providing feedback, the Q and A sessions and other forms of filmmaker-audience interaction was an opportunity for networking and finding ways to develop experience and skill.
The young filmmaker Mo Faramawy, the artistic director of the festival, believes that having such a platform for young filmmakers is a rare thing in Egypt and that it needs to happen not only in Cairo but all over the country as well.
“It is not about the films, it is about the opportunity for a filmmaker to show their film and to talk about it and to find out how to go further. That is why we started it as an online festival. We wanted to have wider outreach and we also liked that Egypt should become the first country in the Arab world to have an online film festival,” he said. “But the online screenings sometimes competed with other film festivals where the filmmakers wanted to submit their work because some festivals don't accept films previously screened online.
“That is why this year we decided to attract more filmmakers by having the short films competition in a real theatre and the students film competition online. Students also have the right to submit their films to the short film competition if they feel confident enough. This gave the filmmakers the chance to submit their newest films to our festival and also added a sense of variety and diversity to the festival. I live most of the time in the USA where I studied cinema four years ago and where I currently work. Working in such a festival is a great opportunity to get involved and to get in touch with the film scene in my country. I believe it has the same effect on the attendants…”

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