The 19th Cairo Intl. Film Festival (Nov. 27-Dec. 10) could have been called the “crisis edition.”
There were three symposiums on the crises in various national film industries including Russia, Germany and Egypt; the fest itself faced something of a financial crisis because of dwindling attendance and box office falloff.
At the festival market, the Cairo vice squad provided even more controversy by seizing two foreign films that had been approved for screening by the fest’s selection committee.
There was catastrophe at the “Ed Wood” screening – a film that critics adored, but the general public greeted the Tim Burton pic with hoots and howls of derision. Some of the viewers left early and demanded their money back.
The Cairo fest – one of the major yearly cultural events in Egypt – drew noticeably smaller crowds this year at the 20 venues playing fest films.
Several reasons were cited for the slide in attendance, the most profound being the proliferation of satellite dishes, allowing Egyptians to watch uncensored foreign movies at home.
Fewer popular American pics also translated into lower festival B.O. Of the 220 films shown, only 24 were from the U. S – a far cry from previous years when U.S. pics dominated the fest.
Forty-five countries sent films to the fest and the lineup included movies from Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka and Mali, although critics cited the fest’s failure to include many Arabic-lingo films. Only 10 Arabic films were shown, of which five were Egyptian.
Anyone doubting that the Egyptian film industry was in crisis need only to have stopped by the film and TV market at the Gezirah Sheraton Hotel. Egyptian production companies had precious little new product on offer. In 1993, Egypt turned out a total of 72 feature films. In 1994, that total dropped to 21, with about that number expected for ’95.
The only market participant that was awash with new product was the giant Egyptian Radio and Television Union, the Mideast’s largest producer of Arabic-lingo TV soaps, serials and made-for-TV movies.
Censorship reared its head as police confiscated “Mee Pek Man” from Singapore and “Treis Hommes et un Ceuffin” (Three Men and a Cradle), which was shown as part of a French film retrospective. Fest ground rules forbid any form of censorship on films shown during the two-week event, but Egyptian morals police didn’t seem to get the message, to the fury of fest prexy Saadeddin Wahba.
Why these two rather innocuous pics were singled out for police interference was a mystery even to fest organizers. Wahba called a press conference to denounce the police action as “unprecedented and outrageous.”
Top prize in the competition section, the Golden Pyramid, went to the dark horse candidate “The Flor Contemplacion Story” from the Philippines, directed by Joel Lamangan.
The international jury, chaired by Indian actress Shabana Azmi, also awarded the following:
Director: Sergei Masloboischikov, “Josephine, the Singer and the Mice People” (Ukraine).
Actor: Stephen Rea, “Citizen X” (U.S.).
Actress: Nora Aunor “The Flor Contemplacion Story,” (Philippines).
Silver Pyramid special jury prize: Khairy Bishara, “Traffic Light” (Egypt).