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Cairo Film Festival and In The Last Days of the City team dispute screening agreement

The distribution company for Tamer El Said’s film Akher Ayam al-Madina (The Last Days of the City, 2016) and the Cairo International Film Festival both offered statements Thursday regarding the film’s withdrawal from the official competition at the 38th edition of the festival.

The Last Days of the City is set in Cairo and stars Khalid Abdalla. It premiered at Germany’s Berlinale in February, has won multiple awards since then.

Zawya Distribution, representing the Egyptian director, announced that the film was withdrawn from the CIFF because it had already been screened at a large number of festivals. Zawya said the agreement was that the CIFF screening would be its Middle East and North Africa premiere, and hence the team turned down other festivals in the region, such as Carthage in Tunis and the Dubai Film Festival.

The festival had also requested the film not be screened outside the region between the time of the agreement in early September and the festival, scheduled for November 15 to 24, Zawya director Youssef El-Shazli told Mada Masr. He said the company reluctantly agreed not to accept new invitations, but told CIFF it would honor already existing agreements with festivals such as at BFI London, Rio and Chicago.

Shazli said turning down other invitations is not common practice, because most festival premieres are usually at a global, regional or local level, and don’t generally limit how many times a film has been screened, as long as there is no prior agreement.

“The CIFF administration expressed concerns about the film’s participation in international festivals that precede CIFF, claiming that this could be interpreted by some as a sign of disrespect to the festival,” Zawya Distribution’s statement read. “We responded that we were honouring our agreement to reserve our MENA premiere for CIFF, and that any screenings of the film before CIFF would be in festivals that take place outside of the region.”

The festival released a statement in response, saying there were inaccuracies in Zawya Distribution’s account.

CIFF said its artistic director, Youssef Cherif Rizkallah, saw the film at the Berlinale and later suggested screening it in its “Prospects of Arab Cinema” program because of its participation in several other festivals. CIFF said Said “insisted the film should be part of the international competition.”

Rizkallah agreed to this, CIFF added, because of the film’s high quality and its desire to support this type of work, but requested that it not be sent to other festivals before the CIFF.

“These conditions were agreed to by both parties,” according to CIFF’s statement. “Tamer El Said also added that he had already agreed to participate in only a limited number of festivals (three or four as he mentioned.) However, after this agreement, it came to the festival’s attention that the film would be participating in nearly 10 festivals, all of them preceding the Cairo International Film Festival.”

Therefore the CIFF “had no choice but to send the film back to his director with an apology, and to exclude the film from the international competition.”

Shazli said there was no written or verbal agreement between the distribution company and CIFF over which festivals Last Days in the City could participate in before the Cairo festival.

The festival’s management had announced in a press release on September 7 that Said’s film would be the second Egyptian film to compete in the festival’s International Competition, alongside Kamla Abo Zekry’s Women’s Day (2016), which premiered at BFI London.

In that press release, CIFF’s management referred to the world premiere of The Last Days in the City world at the Berlinale, as well as various awards it has won, such as the Caligari Film Prize, best director award at the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, and the Grand Prix of the New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland.

Written by Said and Rasha Salti, and shot in 2009 and 2010, In the Last Days of the City follows Khalid Abdalla as he wanders through downtown Cairo. He meets old friends, remembers a lover who is now about to leave the country, and intermittently works on a documentary film.

The film took the best part of a decade to make, and has been eagerly awaited by many Egyptian film enthusiasts since its release in February. Several Egyptian cultural figures shared Zawya Distribution’s statement and expressed disappointment that CIFF pulled the film.

“It’s like they are punishing the film for being successful internationally,” documentary filmmaker Amal Ramsis wrote on Facebook.

Zawya Distribution told Mada Masr that they have submitted the film to the Censorship Authority, requesting clearance for a cinematic release in local cinemas.

“We can only continue to work hard to bring In the Last Days of the City to Egyptian screens,” the statement read. “No matter how much success we achieve abroad, we will not feel the true worth of our film until it’s screened at home, amongst its people — the Egyptian audience.”

CIFF said that its statement “was only made to clarify the process that led to the exclusion of the movie from the selection, and is in no regards related to the quality of the movie. The festival’s administration wishes all the best to the director and his team for the future of this movie and others to come.”

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