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Cairo Industry Days Wraps With Prizes to Promising Arabic Projects

The Cairo Film Festival’s Industry Days wrapped Tuesday on a high note, with several Arabic film projects emerging as standouts of its co-production platform.

The informal market component of the rebooted Cairo fest entailed five days of networking, deal-making, and mentoring, and had a greater focus on TV. Attending were such high-level execs as AGC Studios topper Stuart Ford, AMC Networks’ VP of productions Kristin Jones, and Netflix director of international originals Ahmed Sharkawi. There was also a clutch of CAA agents, plenty of European buyers, and producers and financiers from India and China. 

They came to mingle with the Middle East industry at a time when the region’s market is increasingly perceived as having potential that can be unlocked despite turbulence in territories such as Lebanon, an Arabic film industry hotbed, where banks have currently blocked money transfers outside the country until unrest subsides.

“We are just dipping our toes into the Arabic market,” Ford said during the opening panel, noting that “there is so much growth to be had here.” AGC is handling international sales on young Saudi director Shahad Ameen’s feminist fable “Scales,” which had its Middle East launch in Cairo after world-premiering in Venice.

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The panels focused on such topics as gender-based violence in Egyptian film and TV, moderated by Sandra De Castro Buffington, founding director of UCLA’s Global Media Center for Social Impact, and the more nuts-and-bolts question “Is There Life After Co-production?,” moderated by Egyptian-American producer Dina Emam.

“The feedback has been very encouraging,” said Cairo Industry Days chief Aliaa Zaki (pictured, left, with CFC chief Meriame Deghedi). Zaki said that the informal market’s Cairo Film Connection (CFC) co-production platform for Arabic film projects, which this year almost doubled its prize pot to $200,000, served up the best in the region and “secured filmmakers the international recognition they deserve.”

The lion’s share of the CFC pot went to “Europa,” a drama by Iraqi-Italian director Haider Rashid about a young Iraqi man who is caught by police after entering Europe through the border between Turkey and Bulgaria. He manages to escape into a wild forest underworld, only to become wounded by Bulgarian “migrant hunters,” according to the film’s synopsis.

“Europa,” which is produced by Rashid’s Radical Plans shingle and is now in post-production, won the $50,000 OSN Award in Cairo just as it was also scoring a prize at the Milano Industry Days in Italy. Rashid’s previous films include “It’s About to Rain” and VR short “No Borders,” which went to Venice in 2016.

The developing documentary “The Life and Times of Omar Sharif,” to be directed by Axel Petersen and Mark Lofty, was another major CFC prizewinner. The documentary looks at the Egyptian-born movie star’s life against the changing political backdrops of Egypt and Hollywood. “Sharif” won the MAD-Ergo award of a $30,000 minimum guarantee towards distribution across the Arab world via local arthouse distributor MAD Solutions and the CFC’s Leyth Production award providing sound mixing services.

Another CFC multiple prizewinner was “Under Construction,” an elevated horror film by Lebanese helmer Nadim Tabet (“One of These Days”), also in development. It turns on the mysterious disappearance of Syrian workers on a construction site near a Lebanese village that used to be occupied by the Syrian army. “Under Construction,” which is being produced by Lebanon’s top indie shingle, Abbout Productions, won the Arabia Pictures award and the Red Sea Festival prize providing participation in the new Saudi fest’s project market.

Female empowerment drama “About Her” by experimental Egyptian filmmaker Islam El Azzazi scooped both the New Century and the Rotana awards.

“Leila and I,” a dramedy involving history and real estate by Egyptian director Maggie Morgan (“Asham”), scooped the ART award and also a prize providing screenwriting assistance.

The CFC jury members were Ida Martins, head of Germany’s Media Luna New Films; Egyptian screenwriter Mariam Naoum; and producer and former Jordan Film Commission chief George David.

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