The Main Hall of the Cairo Opera House hosted the 38th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival from 15 to 24 November 2016. This edition was dedicated to the memory of the iconic Egyptian actor Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz (1946 – 2016) who passed away only a few days before the festival opened. The incident might have been a factor in the climate of gloom which appeared to engulf the festival’s opening and closing ceremonies; most of the Egyptian actresses participating were in mourning black. The gala opening dinner was also cancelled in mourning.
Culture Minister Helmy al-Namnam attended the opening and closing events; with him was Minister of Migration Nabila Makram. A few cinema stars also attended, among them Mahmoud Hemeida, honorary president of the festival; actress Elham Shaheen who is the producer of the only Egyptian film in the festival; and actor Farouq al-Fishawi.
Many critics saw this year’s festival as substandard; it failed to live up to its name as an international film event. There were no international stars, and the organisation was notorious of ineptitude and undue delays. The films screened at the Cairo Opera House’s Small Hall suffered from poor acoustics.
Walid Seif, an Egyptian critic, said, “Technically, the participating films were good, but the film representing Egypt was not at the required level. The jury did not include international figures.”
“The Cairo Festival is an international event and was the first in the Arab World. This year’s round needed a budget of not less than USD15 million; the actual budget was a mere EGP8 million,” noted Muhammad Reda, a Lebanese critic. “We wouldn’t be doing the festival justice to compare it to other well-financed similar events.”
It did not help at all, he said, that so few Egyptian stars attended.
Awards and honours
The Prize for Best Actor went to Shakib Ben Omar for his performance in Oliver Laxe’s Mimosas, a joint Spanish Moroccan French production, while the Best Actress Prize went to Nahed al-Sebaie for her performance in Youm Lelsettat (A Day for Women) directed by Kamla Abu-Zikry. Sebaie is the granddaughter of the veteran Egyptian actor Farid Shawqy.
The Golden Pyramid for best film went to Mimosas, while Naguib Mahfouz Prize for best screenplay went to Perfect Strangers directed by the Italian Paolo Genovese. Licinio Azevedo’s The Train of Salt and Sugar, a joint production by Portugal, Mozambique, France, South Africa and Brazil, won the Silver Pyramid Special Jury Prize.
Both the opening and closing ceremonies witnessed the honouring of a number of Egyptian actors and actresses, but it was striking that not many of the honourees attended.
This year’s Faten Hamama Excellency Award included German director Christian Petzold, Chinese director Jia Zhangke, and Egyptian actor Ahmed Helmy, who dedicated his award to the late Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz.
Recipients of the Faten Hamama Appreciation Award also included Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Palestinian producer Hussein El-Qala, and late Egyptian director Mohamed Khan, whose daughter Nadine Khan received the prize on his behalf.
Egyptian actor Yehia El-Fakharany who was also awarded the Faten Hamama Award, said, “This prize carries a very special meaning for me since it is named after a dear person,” Hamama (1931 – 2015) was called the ‘Lady of the Arab Screen’. “She was a lady in the full sense of the word, a beloved actress not only in Egypt, but also in the Arab world.”
Fakharany also talked about the late Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz with tearful eyes, “My dear friend will not be missed, because even if he is no longer here in body, his works will forever immortalise him.”
30 November 2016