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Weekly spotlight on state culture: Hopes high for Cairo’s film festival

The Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) will make a strong comeback in November, promised its board of directors in a press conference last Saturday.

As a result, CIFF will maintain its membership of the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), which has been a major concern for local filmmakers since the festival was cancelled in 2011 and 2013.

But more significant for the Egyptian film scene is the major revision the festival is currently undergoing in terms of its vision and operations. These changes represent an attempt to lure audiences back in and regain CIFF’s regional status.

Samir Farid, an acclaimed film critic and artistic director of the first Abu Dhabi Film Festival, was chosen to head the 36th CIFF in 2013, and he has recruited a diverse yet highly specialized team of filmmakers, critics and professionals to make the event happen.

This new team includes veteran filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah, “Microphone” and “Rags and Tatters” filmmaker Ahmad Abdalla, filmmaker and women’s rights activist Hala Galal, and film critic Joseph Fahim. Many of his 50 new recruits are under 30 years of age, which promises to add fresh perspectives to the 39-year-old festival.

Among the changes in the upcoming edition is that the festival’s events will no longer be limited to the usual 10 days of screenings and talks in Cairo. Events will instead be spread throughout the year, both locally and internationally. So far, the festival has taken part in last year’s Venice Film Festival and Germany’s Berlinale in February. It will also participate in the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The new team is also emphasizing transparency and openness with regards to its decisions and spending. This should help to counter the festival’s longstanding reputation for mismanaging funds and directing most of its budget to galas and red-carpet events rather than securing premieres and developing programming.

At the press conference, a 200-page booklet was handed out to the press, detailing the festival’s vision and work plan, the decisions made by the board of directors so far, and revenues and expenditures including salaries, bonuses and allowances for CIFF staff.

Efforts are currently being directed toward making an exciting and diverse selection for CIFF’s seven sections: the international competition for feature films, special presentations, festival of festivals, films on films, feature classics films, short film classics, and the national cinema guest of honor. And for the first time, documentary and animation films will be admitted to all these categories.

Applications will be received until September, but the organizers announced some highlights of the program-in-the-making last week. The 2013 documentary “Red Blue Yellow,” by screenwriter and director Nujoom Al Ghanem, is the first film selected for the international competition. The film is an informal portrait of Ghanem’s aunt Najat Makki, a pioneering Emirati female artist. An exhibition of Makki’s paintings will also be shown during the festival.

Among CIFF’s guests of honor this year is acclaimed German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff. Two of his films will be shown in the program. The first is his 2014 production “Diplomacy,” which explores the relationship between German military governor of occupied Paris Dietrich von Cholitz and Swedish consul-general Raoul Nordling around Word War II. The second is “Baal” (1969), an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s first full-length play, which was banned for 44 years at the request of Brecht’s widow Helene Weigel.

CIFF is also putting together two publications about Brecht, one of which is an Arabic translation of “Baal.”

The CIFF will take place from 9 to 18 November 2014.

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