The World on the Screen By Mahmoud Jemni

in 31st Cairo International Film Festival

by Mahmoud Jemni

One hundred years. 31st edition. Under the aegis of these two dates, the Cairo International Film Festival took place from November 27 to December 7, 2007. Rich and varied, with three competitive programs beyond the official selection of new Moroccan, Romanian, Turkish and Arabian cinema. Another section celebrated the centenary of Egyptian cinema, following the projection of Lumière’s reels on January 5th, 1896 and the opening of the first movie theater in 1907.

In 1925, the powerful bank MISR established a production society and a film laboratory. Leyla began production in 1925 and ended in 1927. The first thoroughly Egyptian film was produced by its star, the actress Aziza Amir. Since then, Egyptian cinema has imposed its preeminence over the whole Arab world. The fifties and sixties were affluent decades, with production reaching sometimes 100 features a year. Those years were favorable to such auteurs as Salah Abouseif, Henry Baraket and Youssef Chahine. In spite of the brutal decrease of production after the seventies, the eighties were marked by a series of films of great value, and by the exploration of a new political discourse.

A new generation of moviemakers was born, the New Egyptian Cinema. Cairo’s festival honored cinemas from other nations, maintaining its international standing by consecrating such celebrities as Nicolas Roeg, Matt Dillon, Aimee Mullins, Harvey Keitel, the famous composer Quincy Jones and the Algerian Mohammed Lakdhar-Hamina, who won the festival’s gold palm in 1975.

The international feature competition was composed of nineteen films, representing sixteen countries. (Egypt, Morocco and the United Kingdom contributed two films each.) Seven features were produced in 2006; the others were more recent. First features were well-represented, with Italy’s Me, The Other (Io, l’altro), Mexico’s Ópera, Morocco’s The Lost Beauty and Russia’s Full Scope (Polnoe Dykhanie).

Unfortunately, Africa — with the exception of Morocco and Egypt — was conspicuously absent, and deplorably so. Because of its specificity, the African cinema — both anglophone and francophone — deserves to be seen. Cairo’s programmers should not have deprived its audience, both fans and critics, of a chance to see African films — a decision all the more unfortunate, since Cairo has always considered itself as the economical and political locus of Africa.

Some themes were recurrent, if treated differently; the subject of integration was confronted in Italy’s eloquently titled Me, The Other. while the Dutch film Kiks (by Albert Ter Heedt) took a didactic look at the lives of immigrants seeking asylum, and In the Name of God (Khuda ke liye, by Shoaip Mansoor, Pakistan) attempted to explaining the philosophy and precepts of Islam to a Western audience. Morocco’s Waiting for Pasolini considered positive relations between people from very different worlds, who find themselves working for a film by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The political verve permeating daily life can be found, more or less, in Turkey’s Waiting for Heaven (Cenneti beklerken, by Dervis Zaim), in Spain’s The Moon in a Bottle (La luna en botella) and in Egypt’s The Seventh Heaven.

Women are another recurring theme — either consecrated, as in The Lost Beauty, or viewed through the mind of a young girl in Poland’s Jasminum (by Jan Jakub Kolski). In Ópera, a woman is represented as a source of inspiration for a writer in dire need of it, and a lost woman is the main protagonist in Romania’s An Angel Hooked on Me (Ingerul Necesar). The other films, apart from the Filipino entry Casket for Hire, which explores the underworld of its society, can be considered family movies. Each viewer can find his pleasure whatever his age, particularly in the British And When Did You Last See Your Father? (by Anand Tucker) and India’s Life in a Metro (by Anurag Basu).