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Cairo Film fest celebrates its 30th anniversary with added competitions
Published in Daily News Egypt on 09 - 11 - 2006

Arab cinema, digital films and Latin American productions mark the festival
CAIRO: In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the International Cairo Film Festival has added two competitions to its proceedings to encourage Arab cinema and digital filming, says Youssef Cherif Rizkallah, the festival's artistic director.
This year Latin America has been chosen as the celebrated guest of honor, a departure from previous years when a single country had always been chosen. Rizkallah hopes the festival will shed light on the strong productions of the continent.
The head of the international jury is Argentinean director Luis Puenzo.
Latin American has seen one of the most notable cinematic revolutions of the 1990s. Directors such as Alfonso Cuarón ("Y tu mamá también ), Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros ), Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries ), Fernando Meirelles ("City of God ) and many others have elevated their countries, and the entire continent, to the forefront of world cinema as many critics consider the region the new home of neo-realism.
These directors have gone on to achieve international stardom through their subsequent films like Harry Potter, The Constant Gardener, Dark Water and 21 Grams. Despite the success of these directors, Latin American films have had very little presence in Egyptian festival circuits and thus, the Cairo Film Festival becomes the first launch pad for this cinema in the region.
The [problems] in some of these countries are close to Egypt s, like the poverty and unemployment . They are being addressed bravely, said Rizkallah.
With about two weeks to go before the festival begins - it starts on Nov. 28 - the downtown office is buzzing with activity. Seasoned players of the entertainment field are leading teams of young enthusiasts in the preparation phase.
Rizkalla took a brief break from his noisy office to give The Daily Star Egypt a still-to-be confirmed list of festival sections and featured films.
While there might be a few changes in listed films, he told us, most of them are confirmed.
Not every film I wished [to be included in the festival] was available, he said in an early morning phone interview.
He explained that although some filmmakers wanted to participate in the festival, the respective production companies didn t have copies available for the Cairo fest.
[Egyptian and Middle Eastern] distributors don t bother to get the screening rights for Dutch or Belgian films for example, he added, explaining the reason why international filmmakers prefer other European festivals when faced with a choice.
In other places there is always a chance to sell their films . at least a better chance than in Egypt, he said. The lack of parties, whether cinema, video or TV distribution, interested in non-American or non-mainstream films has always been an obstacle to attracting certain films to the festival.
The festival has also lost two Arab films, one Tunisian and the other Moroccan, that were originally slated for the competition sections to the Carthage and Marrakech film festivals respectively.
Rizkallah expressed a wish to have more Arab films in the main competition, but to participate a film cannot have participated in any festival s competition section before.
The behind the scenes staff has added new features to the festival that are likely to make the 30th anniversary unique.
One noteworthy addition is designed to deal with the low number of Arab films qualified for the main competition section. As opposed to previous years, the festival will have a separate competition for Arab films with a separate set of juries, headed by Syrian actor Duraid Luham.
The three Egyptian films participating in the main competition section will also participate in the Arab films competition. This is the largest number of Egyptian films to participate in the competition in recent history.
For the first time there will be a two-award competition for feature digital films. The jury for this section is headed by Egyptian director/writer Daoud Abdel Sayed.
The idea for this competition, explained Rizkallah, was first introduced by Culture Minister Farouk Hosni to encourage filmmakers who use digital cameras.
Also in celebration of the 30th anniversary, seven of the Golden Pyramid winning films will be screened during the 10-day event. The festival s top prize was introduced in 1991.
Initial plans called for a showing of all winning films since 1991. But it wasn t an easy task. Not all production companies had decent copies fit for screening, Rizkallah noted.
This year s festival also features a number of newly added sections. Most notably is the controversial films section with three participating films. "Tangier, a Belgian production, depicts two drug smugglers maltreated in Moroccan prisons.
Some might ask why the film displays such a [negative] image of Moroccan prisons, said Rizkallah, noting that the film has to be labeled controversial. Another participant, "Crossing the Dust, a Kurdistan Iraqi production, highlights Kurdish culture with an anti-Iraq tone.
Besides the newly introduced film market, which features a number of regional media buyers and film distributors, the festival will also organize an information section aimed at promoting some films that are either new or haven t been shown in other festivals, featuring Indian, Iranian, Finnish and Spanish films.


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