After the cancellation of the Cairo and Ismailia film festivals this year, the Alexandria Film Festival for Mediterranean Countries has stepped up as one festival that is willing to brave post-25 January Egypt. Staking out its position enthusiastically, this year’s 27th edition of the festival sports the slogan “Cinema and Revolution.” The festival is also dedicated to Nobel Prize winning author Naguib Mahfouz, who would have turned 100 this fall.
In remarks in the festival publication, Festival President Nader Adly noted, “We believed that this revolution was made for reform and change and not for cancellation.”
On Wednesday evening, at an extravagant, crowded opening ceremony held at the Alexandria Opera House’s Sayid Darwish Theater, the January revolution played a starring role, as continued protests and worker strikes in Alexandria earlier that same day stopped traffic across the city, a reminder that the story of the revolution is by no means over.
The ceremony kicked off with a 20-minute performance of dancers acting out scenes from notable films of political unrest in Egypt while the films played in the background. Moving from fez-sporting men arguing about politics, to Nasser-era street protests, the performance eventually wound its way around to the recently released “Al-Fagoumi,” the stars of which, Khaled al-Sawi and Gihan Fadel, are both serving on the festival’s jury panel this year.
Footage from street protests in Tahrir Square, which was added to the end of “Al-Fagoumi” before its release this spring, ran on the screen, as the stage filled with performers acting out the roles of protestors, venders selling koshary and balloons, and even a young couple crouched over a laptop. Amidst thunderous applause, whistles, and cheers from the audience, it was striking to see how Tahrir Square has already generated a panorama of immediately recognizable iconic imagery, which institutions such as the Alexandria Film Festival cannot resist mythologizing.
After opening remarks by Adly, and Mamdouh Al-Leithy, President of the Egyptian Association of Film Writers and Critics, and the dolling out of numerous honorary awards to Italian Art Director and jury member Oscaldo Desideri and Egyptian director Samir Seif, among a few, the cast of the festival’s opening film “Kaf al-Kamar” (Kamar’s Palm) was introduced to the crowd, and received with great enthusiasm.
At last year’s film festival, the opening film was the much-anticipated “Al-Mosafer,” starring Omar Sherif. Recently released to mixed reviews, “Al-Mosafer” was something of a disappointment. “Kaf al-Kamar,” also a highly anticipated film that will be released in the eid holiday, may suffer a similar fate.
This melodrama of epic length chronicles the trials of an upper Egyptian family forced apart when the matriarch Kamar sends her five sons (her “palm”) to Cairo to earn money to bring back home. But Kamar’s palm splits apart, and she finds herself on her deathbed calling for her eldest son, Zikry, to gather together her sons to see her once more before she dies.
“Kaf al-Kamar,” starring Khaled Saleh in a blustery performance as Zikry, is paced at breakneck speed, whipping forward and backward through time, often rendering the plot utterly confounding. One dramatic event follows the other; love is lost and found and lost, and amid all of it not a moment is left for character development. It is a mess of a film, though it does carry interest as an illustration of the traumatizing experiences of rural Egyptians moving to Cairo to make ends meet, and the way that poverty can rip apart the strongest family bonds.
This year’s festival features 10 feature-length films competing for jury prizes, including the film “Pegasus” from Morocco, which depicts the psychological trauma of a young girl who was raped by her father, as well as contributions from Tunisia and Syria.
The Egyptian film “Hawi,” which has already accrued some accolades, including the award for Best Arab Film at the Doha Film Festival, is screened at the festival as part of the out-of-competition selection.
Non-competing films also include a wide range of selections from Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Lebanon, and France, to name a few. Turkish cinema is the subject of a special spotlight selection at this year’s festival, with one Turkish film “Our Grand Despair” being screened for competition, and four other non-competing films screened as part of the “Turkish Panorama” selection.
The festival also includes short and documentary films, which will be shown at the French Cultural Center in Alexandria, 6 to 9 October. The screening will include a selection of animated films by Egyptian filmmakers, and giving some meaning to the title “Cinema and Revolution,” 12 short documentary films made during or about the 18-day uprising.
For more schedules and more detailed information, contact the Alexandria International Film Festival Secretariat, [email protected], +20 22 57 41 112, +20 22 578 0042.