Cairo Film Festival defies political turmoil

Last held in 2010, this year's Cairo Film Festival (CFF) has been given the go ahead, albeit with a slight delay due to the mass protests being held against the latest presidential decrees.

Though there was the possibility the event could be cancelled, outside factors appear to have held sway as some observers believe that “Egypt is at risk of losing its international recognition from the FAPF (Federation Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films), the body which accredits world film festivals.

Besieged with financial problems as most of the funding was, and still is, from the Ministry of Culture, the CFF appears to have used the enforced break to revamp itself with a programme that not only showcases cinematic African, Arab and European productions, but will also feature workshops and seminars; including the flagship one titled; African Cinema as a Medium of Political, Social, and Cultural Emancipation and its Role in Improving Africa’s Image.

The symposium on African cinema is now scheduled to take place on Friday with the sessions discussion focusing on how African films were playing a role in altering perceptions about the continent.

Leading figures in African cinema such as Hans Christian Mahnke from Namibia, Firdoze Bulbullia from South African and Moussa Touré from Senegal are some of the speakers taking part.

There is also an African Cinema category with films such as Zanzibar Musical Club, Swirl in Bamako and Ezra being shown; in addition to World Cinema, Turkish Cinema and Arab Revolutions in Cinema.

The past two years have witnessed major political, social and cultural changes in Egypt that have had a domino effect on the event and others such as the Experimental Theatre Festival and the National Festival for Egyptian Cinema, which were also cancelled.

The conflict

This year again, there is no escaping political matters with the spillover factor already claiming a number of entries. The producers and directors of the Egyptian movie; In Search of Sand and Oil, have announced that in solidarity with the protesters in Tahrir and in protest against security brutality against those opposing President Mohammed Morsy's decrees, they had withdrawn from the competition.

In a statement, director Wael Omar was quoted as saying: “I refuse to participate in a film festival associated with the ministry of Culture when the Egyptian Government is attacking citizens on the streets as they voice their disagreement with Morsy’s undemocratic and unprecedented Constitutional Declaration, which placed him as a dictator.”

Two Syrian films have also been withdrawn due to the conflict in their country, while another was disqualified on the grounds of the lead actors and directors' support for President Bashar Al-Assad.

In the past, the festival has struggled to fill seats and its reputation took a hit as critics lambasted organisers for the focus on the 'red carpet' events rather then on getting the public interested in the wide array of films, especially as most don't fall in the category of the popular genre of Hollywood blockbusters.

As a sign of the fresh start, many hoped the popular revolt would bring to the Egyptian arts scene, the minister of Culture, which has managed the CFF since the 1980s, decided to hand over organisational responsibility to a “civil entity comprising members of the film community to organise the 2012 edition”.

However, due to transparency problems regarding the selection, it was decided the ministry would organise this year's event with the same Mubarak-era team.

The festival takes place at the Cairo Opera House from today until December 6 with some 64 countries represented and more then 170 films screened.

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