14 March 2010
The 20th Cairo International Film Festival for Children
A child’s world
Crossing the wide expanse of majestic Nile along the Qasr al-Nil bridge to the Cairo Opera House (COH), one is greeted by the flags of 52 countries, hanging above attractively coloured posters advertising the 20th round of the Cairo International Film Festival for Children. Once one steps into the COH grounds, one is greeted with the warm voice of the Lebanese singer Nancy Agram crooning children’s songs. Little ones escorted by their parents run around the place, joining in the singing and having their faces painted. This was last week when the children’s film festival—which ran from 4 to 11 March—was in full swing.
Honouring the veterans
Some 52 countries represented with 359 works participated. Egypt joined in with 16 animation films and 22 TV works.
The festival screened 70 films, which were awarded golden prizes in world festivals, among which the Cairo International Film Festival for children in its 19th round. The films were screened in the Small Hall of the Cairo Opera House, nine cinema theatres in Cairo, as well as in some 45 schools, hospitals, and culture palaces all over Egypt.
This year, the jury was formed of 210 children from several countries.
The opening ceremony witnessed the honouring of 11 figures who had contributed to works for children. Prominent among them was veteran actress Samira Abdel-Aziz, whose soft voice carried bedtime stories on the radio waves to countless children; Nagwa Ibrahim who presented some of the best-loved children’s programmes on Egyptian TV; Afaf Radi who sang more than 30 songs for children; and Ahmed Nabil, the pioneer of pantomime shows.
The Polish production The Magic Tree, directed by Andrzei Malaszka, opened the festival. In 83 minutes it told the story of three children who find a chair made of the wood of a magic tree and decide to use it to make their dreams come true.
Germany, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, Russia, China and India were among the 18 countries with films competing for the feature film prize. Not one Arab film took part. The Korean You and You, directed by Jae hyun Park, urges the rejection of racial and religious discrimination; while the UK’s Spirit Warriors, directed by Jon East, extolls the courage to fight corruption.
In 93 minutes, the animation film Assila, a joint production of Hungary, Egypt, Lebanon and UAE, directed by the Iraqi-born Thamer al-Zedi, depicts the life story of the Arabian thoroughbred Assila. The Egyptian production Underground, directed by Badreddin Sebaei, criticises littering in underground metro stations, turning into a fantasia of cartoon litter figures adventuring with the cleaners.
Many parents bitterly complained about the timing of the festival, which annually coincides with the beginning of second school term. Apart from Friday, the screening of the films conflicts with classes. Others remarked that most of the foreign films carried no Arabic subtitles nor voiceovers, which made it difficult for the children to follow.
The festival administrator Soheir Abdel-Qader, however, was adamant about the festival timing being the optimum. Arrogantly, she said that even if the festival were held during the summer holidays, the parents would claim they had plans to be out of Cairo. As for Arabic subtitles, she claimed they were too costly. Ms Abdel-Qader pointed out that moving the festival outside Cairo, as some critics demanded, would make it lose its international status.
Glimpses of hope
It was heart warming to see, amid the crowds, groups of disabled children enjoying the films and taking part in the all-round activity in the festival.
On the sideline, workshops for face painting were organised, as well as charity sales by some NGOs. Several seminars were held on issues concerning children, including violence in children’s films, female circumcision, dissuading children from smoking and drug abuse, protection against A-H1N1, and the importance of arts in promoting youthful experience.
The festival awards were announced Thursday evening as Watani International went to press.