Belgian ‘Pauline’ tops a subdued Cairo festival

Only a handful of Americans attend event

CAIRO — The Cairo Intl. Film Festival celebrated its silver jubilee Oct. 9-20 in muted tones.

Nearly canceled after the attacks on the U.S., and operating at a deficit because of reduced contributions from the Ministry of Culture and private sponsors, the event was saved through the determination of fest chief Hussein Fahmy and deputy Soheir Abdel Kader.

But only a handful of Americans showed up, following press reports of violent anti-American demonstrations in the country.

In reality, Cairo was extremely calm. People on the street were friendly and sympathetic to U.S. visitors and seemed far less preoccupied over the war in Afghanistan than Americans and Europeans. Though metal detectors and security checks were omnipresent, the festival was not marred by any trace of fundamentalist protest.

In the end, 260 foreign guests turned up, about 85% of those invited, to watch 167 films from 44 countries.

“We did at least 60% of what we wanted to do,” Abdel Kader said. “Our main losses were 25 personalities from the U.S. press, who were invited as a group, and some big stars.”

Danny Glover sent a tape commending the fest organizers for their courage in going ahead with the event.

Fest awarded its Golden Pyramid kudo to newcomer Lieven Debrauwer’s Belgian film “Pauline and Paulette,” a gentle, Flemish-language tale about elderly sisters, one of them severely retarded.

Sinisa Dragin’s quirky Romanian drama “God Kisses Us on the Mouth Every Day” walked off with the Silver Pyramid. Dutch entry “Morlang,” about a photographer in crisis, took both the first-film prize for director Tjebbo Penning and the actor nod for Brit Paul Freeman, who was on hand to pick up his statuette.

“The Hidden Half” earned actress kudo for Niki Karimi and artistic contribution honors for helmer Tamineh Milani, who spent a week in jail last month when Iranian authorities objected to parts of the film.

Jury, headed by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, selected “Memos of a Teenager,” by Inas El-Deghedy, Egypt’s most popular female director, as top Arab film. Pic traces a girl’s path from lighthearted romantic to wiser-but-bitter woman.

Cameron Crowe received the script nod for “Almost Famous” but didn’t make it to the festival.

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