Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy has been appointed president of the Cairo Film Festival with a mandate to revamp and relaunch the prominent Arab fest, which has been losing luster owing to political turbulence, terrorism, and the recent launch of a rival event in a Red Sea resort.
Hefzy, 43, is the youngest president in the Cairo fest’s 40-edition history and the first chosen from within the country’s film industry ranks. He replaces critic Magda Wasef. Critic and academic Youssef Sherif Rizkalla remains the fest’s artistic director.
“It’s a big responsibility….There is a lot that needs to be improved,” Hefzy told Variety, adding that he had not expected Egyptian Culture Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem — a former Cairo Opera House chairwoman who was appointed minister in January — to pick him for the challenging task. But, Hefzy noted, he and Abdel-Dayem “share a very similar vision for how the festival can find its footing and regain its strength.”
The Cairo Film Festival is the oldest fest in the Arab and African worlds, and is a member of international festival organization FIAPF.
Hefzy’s Film Clinic shingle has produced a steady output of well-received, often edgy, Egyptian titles in recent years that have circulated internationally, such as Mohamed Diab’s thriller “Clash,” set inside a police paddy wagon during the country’s 2013 street protests, and “Sheikh Jackson,” about an Egyptian Islamic fundamentalist cleric with a secret passion for the music of Michael Jackson, directed by Amr Salama.
He said his top priority would be to develop the Cairo fest’s film market, which used to be a key component of the festival. Egyptian film critic Samir Farid scrapped the Cairo film market when he took the reins in 2014 after a hiatus for the festival following Egypt’s 2011 revolution.
The Cairo Film Connection co-production platform was reinstated in 2016, but then disappeared again.
“I’m not saying that we are going to have a full-on market the first year [of my mandate], but this is something we definitely need to do in the future,” Hefzy said.
Another priority is to put the fest firmly back on the international circuit. Last year “it just felt like it was more for local consumption,” Hefzy noted. He now really wants to send out the message “that this festival is international, that we care about cinema from all over the world.”
A big problem on the international front has been that, “because of the revolution and the security situation for the past several years…a lot of foreign guests have been scared to come to Cairo,” Hefzy said. “But I think that’s changing now. I think Cairo is becoming safe. Tourism is back, and the hotels are full.”
Regarding competition from the ambitious new El Gouna Film Festival, which launched last year on the banks of the Red Sea, and from the Dubai festival, which has risen to become the top dog in the Arab world, Hefzy acknowledged that “it’s going to be really tough” to lure away premieres of Arabic films and Middle East launches of top-notch international fare, especially in his first year on the job.
But Hefzy is confident that the appeal of Cairo’s sophisticated metropolitan audience, the reinstated market component, and the fact that “Egypt still has the strongest film industry in the region” will prompt the fest to attract “some of the best films out there” by the end of his three-year tenure.