Cairo Pending Arab Spring

in 35th Cairo International Film Festival

by Salome Kikaleishvili

Everything started in 2010. Like a huge wave or a viral infection, like a cancer, the revolution spread quickly and engulfed the entire Eastern world. It was named the Arab Spring then. Egypt also became a part of a huge wave. Millions of people rallying in the streets forced Hosni Mubarak to resign after a 30-year rule and give way to changes and a new ruler. Egypt achieved a victory. It seemed that the epoch of hope should have started in this country.

However, just a year after the revolution and bloody attacks, the temperature has risen in Egypt again. The post-revolutionary country has again become involved in street rallies. The place of action has not changed – Tahrir Square. Neither has the slogan changed: Life to Egypt! Life to Egypt!  Changes have not met people’s expectations. “Mohamed Morsi is obliged to come out and listen to his people,” the protesters chant, unsatisfied with the new constitution. Those gathered in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Giza are still demanding a “spring.”

Revolution has covered everybody and everything. It even covered filmmaking which, like the revolution, went out into the streets and fixed on a street protestor through its lens.

The Cairo International Film Festival has a long history. Its founders had been trying for a long time to turn it into a Class A, leading festival of the Arab world. Because of last winter’s political developments, the organizers had to postpone the festival and take a one-year break. However, they could not have imagined even then that a year later they would have to open the festival amid unrests and revolution. The opening planned for November 27, 2012 was postponed for a day. The festival was delayed because of the unrest in Tahrir Square and all of Cairo.

On November 28, the 35th International Film Festival was solemnly opened at the Opera House – or  more correctly, the Palais Du Festival, as it is usually called. The Egyptian artists in evening dress with multi-colored jewels tirelessly answered journalists’ questions, and of course all the questions were about politics and revolution. With a moment of silence, the guests of the festival expressed condolences for those who died during last year’s revolution. The festival opened with photos depicting recent developments. As in the streets, the slogan “Life to Egypt” was simultaneously heard at the Cairo Opera.  

The film which opened the festival is in line with the famous developments in Egypt. Winter of Discontent by Ibrahim El Batout tells us about the developments of January 2011 – revolution and its children, people divided into two and terror, people staying in an information vacuum. As an informative work, the film may be interesting for some, because it highlights the developments of our most recent history and reflects the incurable pain on Egyptian soil. However, as a cinematographic work, it contains numerous shortcomings and faults.

First and foremost, we should look for the shortcomings in its dramaturgy. The three main characters of the film are activist Amr, newscaster Farah and state security officer Abdel. Each of the three characters plays an important role in the entire chain. Amr is an ordinary citizen, whose life changed after he became an activist and started to criticize President Mubarak’s policy. He is arrested and severely tortured, along with other activists. We do not know how Amr lived before; however, since then, he has become closed and tight-lipped, as if he has lost the ability to live and only tries to breathe. Newscaster Farah is a journalist working for the state television. She and Amr separate; despite Amr’s torture, she continues working for the state television. During a news program, Farah says what she is told to say. However, during her life outside work, her eyes are full of tears, and guilty glances indicate at possible changes in her conscience. Adel, the face of the state security office, is also far from straightforward, although the film shows his furnished apartment and idyllic family.        

Although the film should be interesting, vivid and revolutionary at a glance, what we see are characters with poor faces and emotions, without any layers, whose kind or wicked intentions are finally primitive. The main thing which has been lost in the film is cinematographic language, the absence of which can only be considered a huge minus for the film. The fact that the film opened the festival can only be explained by its being in the right place at the right time.      

The fact is that after a multi-year slavery, Egypt needs revolution as it needs air; the words and pain accumulated for years need to be voiced.  As one Egyptian critic said, he would find it difficult to assess the film because its events are quite recent and extremely painful. He said, “I find it very difficult to be impartial.”

And this is where the main question arises: maybe time is needed to get free of emotions and to assess the developments reasonably – time, which we are so afraid of.

Edited by Lesley Chow