Cairo: Politics as usual

The 17th Cairo Intl. Film Festival, which concluded Sunday, continued its longstanding boycott of Israeli films, and if Egypt’s Ministry of Culture had had its way, the fest’s competition section would have boycotted Egyptian films, too.

A selection committee from the ministry nixed six recent Egyptian movies submitted for the competition as unsuitable for an international festival.

But fest management, determined to show the flag — even if sullied by less-than-outstanding film fare — overruled the committee and chose two of the six for competition –“Garage” by Alaa Karim and “The Strawberry War” by Khairy Bishara.

The two local films joined 17 others from 16 countries to compete in five categories: best film, director, actor, actress and first-time director. The international jury of 11 was headed by Spanish helmer Juan Antonio Bardem.

Fest prexy Saadeddin Wahba said the boycott of Israeli films would continue “until there is a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and the Arabs (and not just) a treaty with Egypt alone.”

Arm’s length

This view reflects the position of most Arab filmmakers, though many Israelis apparently were hoping that the Sept. 13 accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization might herald cultural and cinema exchanges between Israel and the Arabs. Fest organizers also cite security considerations as another reason for keeping Israel at arm’s length.

One of the fest’s symposia was timely, titled Cinema, Violence and Terrorism. Terrorist attacks by Egyptian radicals have shown little sign of abating despite draconian government measures against them.

The Cairo fest is the Arab world’s largest, and one of Egypt’s major yearly cultural events. Some 180 films from 37 countries unspooled this year’s fest.

Fest gives a cinema-starved Egyptian public the opportunity to see uncut versions of films that would normally be subject to the censor’s scissors. Among suchtitles this year were “The Crying Game” and China’s “Farewell My Concubine.”

Although some 17 countries participated in the fest market, it was strictly at an Arab level, and at that mostly a television market. The major player was Egypt’s Radio & TV Union’s Economic Sector, which is responsible for the sales of some 750 hours a year the union produces of soaps, TV movies, historical and religious drams and children’s programs.

Last year the union sold $ 11 million worth of TV programs, mostly to other Arab or Islamic countries and Arabic-lingo stations in Europe.

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