“I’m No Longer Here,” which turns on a 17-year-old urban tribe leader forced by conflict with a cartel to leave Mexico for Queens, scooped Cairo’s top prize, the Golden Pyramid, for best film. It also took acting honors for newcomer Juan Daniel Garcia Trevino, who plays Ulises Sampiero, leader of Los Terkos, who are known for their dance moves and extravagant hairstyles. In Queens, Ulises winds up either sparking hostility from other immigrants or being treated as a fashion curiosity. The pic, which launched internationally in Cairo, is generating buzz after recently scoring the top prize at the Morelia fest in Mexico.
The Cairo jury, headed by Oscar-winning U.S. writer-director Stephen Gaghan (“Syriana”), awarded the Silver Pyramid to “Ghost Tropic” by Belgian helmer Bas Devos, in which a lady of Maghrebi origins meanders through multicultural Brussels one night after oversleeping on the subway.
Two films tied for the Bronze Pyramid for best first or second work: Chinese directorial duo Zhang Chong and Zhang Bo’s “The Fourth Wall,” a portrayal of two damaged people with a shared past who live in alternate fantasy worlds that eventually overlap, and Czech director Michal Hogenauer’s stylish psychological thriller, “A Certain Kind of Silence.”
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The screenplay award went to Palestinian writer-director Najwa Najjar for her divorce amid diaspora drama “Between Heaven and Earth,” which world-premiered in the international competition section.
The prize for best actress went to Filipina film and TV star and social media queen Judy Ann Santos for her unglamorous role as the anguished mother of a sick child in melodrama “Mindanao,” the latest from prolific Filipino director Brillante Mendoza. “Mindanao” also scored the prize for best artistic contribution.
Egyptian director Marianne Khoury’s competition entry “Let’s Talk,” a doc interweaving archive material with cinematic conversations between four women from different generations in the family of late great Egyptian master Youssef Chahine, won the audience award voted by festival goers.
The big winner in Cairo’s separate Arab competition strand was Tunisian director Mahdi Barsaoui’s debut feature, “A Son,” about a father whose world is shattered when his son is injured in a terrorist shootout. “A Son” scored a rare double whammy, scooping both the Best Arab Film prize and the Special Jury Award. The pic has been making a splash since launching from Venice, where it the won best actor in the Horizons section for Sami Bouajila, who plays the father.
Iraqi director Mohanad Hayal’s drama “Haifa Street,” which is set in one of the most dangerous locations during the civil war in Baghdad in 2006, also scored two prizes: the award for best Arab director and acting honors for Ali Thamer, who plays a sniper. The film recently won a prize in Busan.
Documentary “Beirut Terminus” by Elie Kamal, a UAE-Lebanese co-production that uses a discarded railway to explore notions of borders and identity in perpetually turbulent Lebanon, won the award for nonfiction film.
Cairo’s 41st edition was the second headed by Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy, whose reboot puts Arab cinema and the region’s industry back at the center of the festival, reviving its role as a Middle East hub. The festival has historically been the Arab world’s preeminent cinema event as the oldest such event in the Middle East and North Africa and the only one in the region granted “category A” status by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations.
Significantly, Cairo became the first film event last month in the Arab world to sign the 5050×2020 gender-equality pledge that other festivals, such as Cannes and Venice, have also signed.
Cairo also marked another milestone this year: The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has designated it an Oscar-qualifying fest in the live-action and animated short film categories.