Egyptian film critic Youssef Cherif Rizkallah, who as a TV personality helped promote quality Hollywood and international movies across the Middle East and led the Cairo Film Festival for decades amid frequent political turbulence, has died. He was 76.
His death was announced by the Cairo Film Festival. The cause of death was related to a kidney ailment, press reports said.
After graduating with a degree in political science from Cairo University in 1966, Rizkallah started out as a news editor at the state Egyptian Radio and TV Union, where he rapidly veered towards cinema, his real passion.
Rizkallah soon began attending major film festivals around the world, becoming a fixture on the circuit, and launched and hosted hugely popular film-review shows on Egyptian television. They included “Cinema Club” and “Oscar TV” in 1975 and 1980, respectively, and then “Telecinema” and “The Magic Lantern.” On these shows he introduced Hollywood and European stars, such as Meryl Streep and Claudia Cardinale, to Egyptian and Arab audiences. He was appointed head of Egypt’s state-run International Nile TV station in 1997.
Rizkallah also reviewed prolifically for a number of Egyptian and Arab publications, exerting great influence on generations of moviegoers and filmmakers in the Arab world.
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In 1978, he became president of the Cairo Film Society and shortly thereafter artistic director of the Cairo Film Festival, a position he held uninterruptedly until 2011. He was ousted in the wake of the Tahrir Square uprising, part of the Arab Spring, after the government decided that it wanted more direct oversight of the event.
In 2017, Rizkallah resumed serving as artistic director of Cairo, which is the oldest film festival in the Middle East and Africa, and last year he was honored by the revamped event.
“Farewell, Youssef Cherif Rizkallah, the one who filled our hearts with love for cinema,” the Cairo festival said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences to his family and all film lovers in Egypt and around the Arab world.”
Rizkallah, who spoke several languages, served on the juries of the Strasbourg, Milan, Rotterdam, and Montpellier fests and was bestowed with France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres honor.
He is survived by his wife, Mervat el-Ebiary, and their two sons, Ahmed and Karim.