Cairo Film Festival gets connected

Arab world's oldest fest offers $133,000 to jury winner of market component

The times have caught up with Arab world’s oldest film festival.

In the past few years, international film co-production markets, modeled on prototypes at Cannes, Rotterdam and Berlin, have blossomed in the film festivals of the Middle East and North African region known as MENA.

Dubai Film Connections, founded under the Dubai Film Festival in 2007, was the first, and this year, the venerable Cairo Film Festival (the 34th edition of which unspooled Nov. 30-Dec. 9) joined the international co-production club with Cairo Film Connections.

Over three days, 12 director-producer teams (10 in pre-production, 2 in post-production; vetted from 30 applicants) pitched projects to an international jury of film professionals and a phalanx of international and Egyptian film producers and distributors.

CFC consultant Marianne Khoury said the selection was notable “because there are Arab expatriates here as well as filmmakers living in Egypt and the region.”

A well-known figure on the regional cinema scene, Khoury is one of the faces of Misr Intl. Films, which produced the works of Youssef Chahine, Egypt’s best-known film export. After her brother and business partner Gabriel Khoury pitched the idea of an international co-production market tied to the fest to Egypt’s ministry of culture last year, she took up the responsibility of creating CFC from scratch.

As a sweetener, CFC’s jury will award a prize of E100,000 ($133,000), funded by the ministry of culture, to the most promising project.

While acknowledging CFC’s debts to the earlier initiatives in the Gulf, Khoury is excited about CFC’s potential. Unlike the film sectors in most Arab countries, Egypt has a decades-old filmmaking industry and a massive, enthusiastic domestic audience.

“If a film is screened in Egyptian cinemas and has average results,” she says, “it could have a million spectators. We’re talking about completely different figures than in other Arab countries.”

Local producers can meet delegates from Fond Sud, the World Cinema Fund, and producers from Germany and the U.S., Khoury says.

The major challenge in Egypt facing international co-productions, Khoury says, is the nation’s entrenched culture of film finance, with producers backing solely the projects of directors and writers they know personally.

It’s easy to imagine younger, innovative filmmakers could easily be shut out of such a culture. And it’s a condition the CFC aims to change.

“Young filmmakers either have to adapt to these roles — or else make something different, taking advantage of new technologies and relying upon their own abilities,” Khoury says.

Though Egyptian producers aren’t as accustomed to listening to pitches as those in other countries, Khoury says the results of the market should be intriguing as the country’s film business evolves.

“Even in the last six months, some filmmakers have made films and reached international festivals where they’re starting to receive recognition. These films have not yet been screened here, and it’ll be very interesting to see the results.”