A record 5,100 short films were submitted to the Cairo Film Festival’s short film competition this year, thanks to a new collaboration with FilmFreeWay. Around 1,200 shorts are sent in more usually for the region’s only A-list festival. The section comes with the added bonus of the winning film being submitted to the Oscars’ long list.

“We expanded the team to nine people, including volunteers, so we could properly assess each one,” Marouan Omara, the director of the Short Film Competition, tells Variety.

More than 3,800 shorts were submitted via the FilmFreeWay platform alone.

This year, 22 films are vying for the Youssef Chahine Award for Best Short Film, which comes with a $5,000 prize, sponsored by Clacket Media.

Ten of the films are by women directors. Five come from Egypt. Five from the Arab/Africa region. There are 12 international films.

“The selected films are diverse and show underrepresented communities and countries,” says Omara. “There was a strong set of films by women filmmakers.”

While the section previously included Egyptian premieres, the increase in submissions allowed Omara to select only international and world premieres, this year. “We decided not to act as a satellite for other festivals,” he says.

The committee chose an initial 16 films. The remaining six were selected to fit in with the short section’s slots. These slots group films around transversal themes that emerged during the submission process.

“COVID was a big theme. The films submitted take very different approaches to the subject matter,” says Omara. “Another theme that emerged was ‘on the route,’ or things happening to people traveling between destinations.”

Some of the films are aimed at asking questions. “The socio-political context of Egypt is something that is addressed,” said Omara.

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Marie-Rose Osta’s “Then Came Dark” Courtesy of Cairo Film Festival

Films will be screened with Arabic subtitles for the first time this year giving wider access to the films, and their ideas, to the local community.

The jury for the short film competition this year is Cintia Gil, the Portuguese film programmer; Sameh Alaa, the Egyptian film director; and Machérie Ekwa Bahango, the Congolese filmmaker.

The Short Film Competition’s selection committee members are Omara; Rodrigo Brum, head programmer; and Noureldin Ahmed, programmer and program coordinator in Cairo.

The titles selected for the short film competition this year:

“Above the City,” Malika Mukhamejan, Kazakhstan/Russia, 25’
“Ambulantes,” ’Emerson Eduardo Silva, Gabriela Nassar, Gustavo Sibem and Henrique Grise, Brazil, 3’30’’
“And I Was Left Behind,” Maysaa Almumin, Kuwait/Qatar, 7’
“And That’s It,” Boris Khlebnikov, Natalya Mechshaninova, Russia, 11’
“Black Box,” Yun Kinam, Republic of Korea, 10’15’’
“Blind Spot,” Lotfi Achour, Tunisia/France, 12’56’’
“Deliver Me,” Jannous Aukema, South Africa, 28’
“The Ditch,” Amr Abed, Egypt, 18’19’’
“Echolocation,” Nadia Shihab, Iraq/U.S., 8’37’’
“Habib,” Nima Latifi, Afghanistan/Germany, 12’47’’
“Happy Town,” James Camargo De Alba, Colombia, 8’14’’
“I Might Not Normally Share This,” Noura A. Rahman, Egypt, 15’52’’
“It’s Nothing Nagy, Just Hang Up,” Youhanna Nagy, Egypt, 25’
“Literal Legend,” Dimitris Tsakaleas and Lida Vartzioti, Greece, 9’45’’
“Little Farewells,” Shantel Liao, Taiwan, 4’8’’
“Memento Mare,” Hala Elkousy, Egypt/Netherland, 10’23’’
“Nights and Days in America,” Louise Zhang, China/USA, 11’
“Poem for a Distant Village,” Liu Bing, China, 30’
“Prairie Flowers,” Mariana Xochiquétzal Rivera, Mexico, 19’
“Skin River,” Mário Macedo, Portugal, 20’
“Then Came Dark,” Marie-Rose Osta, Lebanon, 15’
“Three Disappearances and a Song,” Nadia Ghanem, Egypt, 25’