37th Cairo International Film Festival

Egypt, November 11 - November 20 2015

The jury

Frédéric Ponsard (France), Karsten Kastelan (Germany), Seham Abd el Salam (Egypt)

Awarded films

“The plane might have fallen, but Egypt will never fall,” declared famous Egyptian actor Hussein Fahmy at the opening ceremony of the 37th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) on Nov. 11, alluding to Metrojet Flight 9268, which had crashed 12 days earlier after departing from the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Little did he know that terrorism would rear its ugly head again and again throughout the festival. But not in Cairo, where it was held at bay not just by metal detectors, police and canine units at every hotel and venue, but also by a sense of perseverance and kindness by a festival staff dedicated to showing its guests that the Egypt they and the CIFF stand for has nothing to do with the horrific attacks in other parts of the world.

The main competition’s program centered almost exclusively on another pressing (and depressing) topic: poverty, the main subject of at least 10 of the 16 entries, with Yosef Baraki’s Mina Walking from Afghanistan showing its most dire aspects, while films like Ines Tanovic’s Our Everyday Life (Nasa svakodnevna prica) from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure (Comoara) from Romania tackling the higher end of this universal problem, with people losing their houses or being unable to afford a life-saving operation due to financial constraints.

Awards given out by the international jury covered a wide field, with the refugee-drama Mediterranea nabbing Best Film and Best Actor and many of the other films getting a fair share of awards – but this is more likely to be seen as a result of the CIFF’s rules, which prohibited too many of its seven awards going to a single film. The FIPRESCI-jury, consisting of Frédéric Ponsard (France), Seham Abd el Salam (Egypt) and the German author of this text, didn’t have this problem, with only one price to give out, which went to Prashant Nair’s Umrika from India, a rare festival entry, because it’s a truly artistic achievement as well as a crowd-pleaser.

Left out – and secretly derided as unfit for competition – were the two Egyptian entries, The Grand Night by Sameh Abdel Aziz and Born to a Man by Kareem El Sobky – respectively a broad comedy and a boxing-slash-martial-arts-drama that might very well make a pretty penny at the local cinema, but clearly unfit for international audiences, let alone juries.

This is not to say that Egyptian cinema does not have its charms or worthy contenders, as Kawthar Younes’ A Present from the Past and Romany Saad’s Tuk-tuk, both documentary features with a strong crossover potential, proved. One could actually surmise that Egyptian cinema, once the economic motor of Arab cinema, with Cairo as it’s Hollywood, is finally on a well laid-out path to recovery, with entertainment and independent cinema showing once again strong vital signs.

Led for the first time by festival director Dr. Magda Wassef, this year’s edition showed great promise as well as a staying power that betrays its meager 9.000.000 EGP budget (approximately one million Euros), with special awards given out to actress Claudia cardinal, Egyptian actor Hussein Fahmy, a tribute to the late Omar Sharif and the well-received Festival of festivals section, a look at Japanese animation and a well-curated series of classic restored films. (Karsten Kastelan).

Cairo International Film Festival: www.ciff.org.eg