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‘A Twelve-Year Night,’ Uruguay’s Oscar Candidate, Wins Top Prize in Cairo

The rebooted Cairo Film Festival has wrapped with the event’s top prize, the Golden Pyramid, going to “A Twelve-Year Night,” Uruguay’s candidate for the foreign-language Oscar. The award, presented Thursday night, came with a $20,000 check that was given to the producers of “Night,” a harrowing drama about Uruguay’s former military dictatorship.

Thai auteur Phuttiphing Aroonpheng’s hypnotic “Manta Ray” and Ukranian director Segei Loznitsa’s dystopian “Donbass,” about the degradation of civil society in the fake news era, tied for Silver Pyramid honors. The Bronze Pyramid for best first or second work went to British helmer Jamie Jones for his debut, “Obey,” a tragic love story set amid the 2011 London riots.

Oscar-winning Danish director Bille August headed the main jury for the Cairo festival’s 40th edition. The fest is the oldest such event in the Arab and African worlds and has undergone a major makeover under its new chief, Mohammed Hefzy, who boasted that screenings were packed, unlike in years past. Hefzy, a producer with international connections, also launched a small industry sidebar, and wants Cairo to fill the void left by the now-defunct Dubai film fest, which was the Arab film industry’s main annual get-together.

A Twelve-Year Night,” directed by Alvaro Brechner, depicts the hell that three Tupamaro guerrillas – including former Uruguayan President Jose “Pepe” Mujica – went through after being captured in the early 1970s and thrown into solitary confinement for 12 years. The film also scooped an award given in Cairo by the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci).

A separate jury headed by Egypt’s A.B. Shawky (“Yomeddine”) handed out awards for the best Arab films. Egyptian social drama “Poisonous Roses” won for best film, which carries a $15,000 check, and also the special jury prize. The film, a first feature directed by human rights activist Ahmed Fawzy Saleh, centers on a protagonist trying to escape the toxic alleyways and open sewers of Cairo’s tannery district.

The award for best Arab director went to Tunisian helmer Mahmoud bin Mahmoud for “Fatwa,” which tackles religious radicalization in Tunisia and earlier this month scooped the best film and best actor awards at the Carthage Film Festival.

Hefzy’s effort to launch an embryonic Industry Days component and revive the Cairo Film Connection co-production platform this year lured roughly 120 industry execs from companies such as Participant Media, HBO, Netflix, France’s Gaumont and Middle Eastern players OSN, Front Row Distribution, and New Century Productions.

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