Last year’s Cairo International Film Festival was cancelled because of the violent demonstrations in Tahrir Square, close to where the films are shown. So this year’s decision to hold the festival despite a fresh surge of protests was a brave decision that has paid off.
The same venue and the same red carpet but a new and less frivolous atmosphere. A nod in the direction of those who are battling to retain freedom in the creative industries at the same time as the opening of the festivals.
A reflection of the unrest in the country at large, CIFF as the Cairo International Film Festival is known, created new categories such as human rights and revolution to add to its usual sections.
Marianne Khoury is the artistic director of CIFF and also the co-manager of Misr International Films, Egypt’s biggest production company, founded in the early 1970s by Egyptian film director Youssef Chahine. Khoury said:
“The country is going through great turmoil. It’s a huge moment in the history of Egypt and it’s why I accepted as an artistic director to be part of that edition. This year in particular because it’s a very exceptional year for me, I said I’ll do it despite the fact that there is huge turmoil on all aspects because it’s very important for Egypt and very important for cinema as well and very important that this festival stays alive.”
The opening film, a documentary dealing with the days in the lead up to Egypt’s revolution in 2011, set the tone for the event. Although many films had revolution as their theme there were some important exceptions. Mohamed El Badawy, a Moroccan film maker, chose a subject that has an impact on his home town. The film “Soleiman” deals with the repercussions of chemical bombing nearly a century ago by the Spanish army in Morocco’s Rif Mountains.
El Badawy says: “I wanted to show that the Spanish had dropped bombs in the 1920s in the Rif. Since then, the rates of cancer have been very high. And that is still true today . The most prevalent is lung cancer. Those afflicted can be men women, children and old people. So I wanted to talk about this subject in my film because in Morocco nobody wants to discuss this. The Spanish refuse to pay any compensation to their victims.”
The films are all being shown in Cairo’s Opera House, close to both the Nile and Tahrir Square.
The Arab world is aware of the possibility of genuine people’s revolutions being hijacked by organisations with hidden religious or political agendas, as Walid Al Awadi, a film maker from Kuwait, shows in his film “Tora Bora”.
“Tora Bora focused on brainwashing,” he explains. “That’s why I went all the way to Afghanistan to tell the story. It’s about parents whose sons were brainwashed by the extremists and by the Islamists. And I think that what’s happening in Tahrir Square. It’s all about people seeking their freedom, and freedom of expression. There is a huge connection between this ‘being free’ and seeking your freedom and being brainwashed by someone who wants to focus on his own ideology and to spoon feed you with their ideology.”
“Tora Bora” may be set in Afghanistan but the parallels with the Egyptian revolution are unmistakeable. The film festival is providing many directors with a creative way of expressing hopes and fears for Egypt’s on-going revolution.