Two Egyptian figures: film producer and screen writer Mahmoud Hefzy and Egyptian Tunisian actress Hend Sabri were recently honoured by France with its Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres).
The awarding ceremony took place at the Embassy of France in Cairo where Stéphane Romatet, Ambassador of France in Egypt, decorated Mr Hefzy and Ms Sabri. Mr Hefzy was made Chevalier (Knight) of the prestigious award, whereas Ms Sabri was made Officier (Officer) in a promotion to the Chevalier award she had received in 2014.
The award was granted to the two Egyptians in recognition of their contribution to the development of Egypt’s cultural scene and the bridges they have created between France and their respective countries.
Mr Hefzy’s credit spans more than 30 feature films in Egypt, the US, UK and the Arab World. His banner Film Clinic, founded in 2006, now ranks as a leading production company in Egypt and the Arab world. It has produced films that have played at key film festivals, including Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Sundance and Toronto. At Cannes, Mr Hefzy’s “Clash” by Mohamed Diab played in 2016, “Yomeddin in 2018, and “Souad” was part of Cannes 2020’s official selection.
Mr Hefzy recently became a member of the producers’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. According to Variety which has him on its V500, he is known to actively support independent filmmakers in Egypt and the Arab World. For three consecutive years, Mr Hefzy was President of the Cairo International Film Festival. He is widely applauded by filmmakers for having moved the festival to international recognition.
As to his relation to France, Mr Hefzy took to social media to credit it to his “elementary education in a French school in Cairo, the films I co-produced with France, and the bond I have formed over the years with my friends and counterparts in French cinema and the French cultural sector.” He said France has been a “huge inspiration” to him as a writer and producer.”
Hend Sabri began her film career in 1994, appearing in Tunisian films including Moufida Tlatli’s The Silences of the Palace and The Season of Men, and Nouri Bouzid’s Clay Dolls.
In the early 2000s, Egyptian director Inas Al Degheidy introduced her to the Egyptian cinema through Muzakirat Murahiqua (A Teenager’s Diary). Her role in the film gave her immediate stardom across the Arab world and in a short span of time she became one of the most prominent Tunisian actresses in Egypt and the Arab world.
Sabri played remarkable roles in a number of Egyptian films, most significant of which are: Mowaten we Mokhber we Haramy (A Citizen, a Detective, and a Thief), Banat West El Balad (Downtown Girls) and Ibrahim El Abyad. In 2006, she participated in Oumaret Yacoubian (The Yacoubian Building) co-starring with an extensive number of Egypt’s major super stars. Sabri gained the hearts of Arab audience in drama too with the roles she played discussing real social problems. Awza atgawez (I want to get married), Embratoreyet meen (Whose Empire) and Halawet al-dounia (Sweet life) were among her most successful serial TV drama.
She served on the Venice Film Festival jury in 2019, and has won numerous accolades, notably at the Carthage Festival. In 2017, she won the Excellence Award at the Cairo International Film Festival.
On account of her outstanding roles which frequently tackle social and societal problems in a brilliant manner, Ms Sabri has a broad base of fans enthusiastic about her every work. She is also involved in various social and humanitarian causes, including women’s rights. Ms Sabri was listed by CEO Middle East magazine in 2013 among the world’s top 100 most powerful Arab women.
On social media, Ms Sabri said “this appointment as the youngest Arab woman Officer of Arts and Letters is another stone in the very solid foundation” that has always been her relationship with France.
She received a French education in Tunisia and participated in several films co-produced with France. Starting off as a model, she maintained a strong bond with France, having been an ambassador for Garnier, a L’Oréal brand, in the Arab World.
“Today, I pass on to my two daughters and my audience all the richness of this double identity that I claim,” Ms Sabri said.
The Order of Arts and Letters was established in 1957 by the French Minister of Culture to recognise “eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. It includes three grades: Chevalier; Officier; and Commandeur (Commander), the highest rank of all.
Egyptians awarded the Knight of the Order of Arts and Culture include novelist and Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz (1911 – 2006); novelist and journalist Gamal al-Ghitani; visual artist and women activist Inji Aflatoun; playwright, director, and head of the D-CAF and Orient Productions Ahmed El-Attar; novelist Alaa Al-Aswany; as well as composer and conductor Hisham Gabr.
International recipients of the order include American actor George Clooney, Australian singer Kylie Minogue, American film director Tim Burton, American fiction writer Philipp Meyer, Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Dutch violinist and conductor André Rieu, Turkish writer Elif Şafak.
2 February 2021