Mexican director Joaquin del Paso’s coming-of-age drama “The Hole in the Fence,” set in an all-male religious camp in rural Mexico, scored the Cairo Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Pyramid, on Sunday capping a vibrant 43rd edition of the preeminent Arab event, which was held in person despite the impending threat of the coronavirus Omicron variant.
Though there were some last minute cancellations, most international attendees made the trek to Cairo undeterred, including jury president Emir Kusturica, U.S. producer Lawrence Bender and Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux – dubbed the “King of the Croisette” by the master of ceremonies. The latter two were honored with lifetime achievement awards during the glitzy closing ceremony in Cairo’s opera house.
“Hole in the Fence,” which world premiered in Venice, is Del Paso’s second work after “Panamerican Machinery,” which had made a splash after launching from Berlin in 2016. “Hole” explores the experience of a group of boys from a prestigious private school gathered at a summer school camp where they receive physical, moral and religious training. The discovery of a hole in the perimeter fence prompts a chain of increasingly disturbing events.
Italian films landed two top Cairo prizes with Laura Samani’s “Small Body,” a 19th century-set drama involving female empowerment, Catholic culture and gender fluidity, taking the Silver Pyramid for best director, and Swami Rotolo scoring the best actress prize for her powerful performance in Jonas Carpignano’s “A Chiara,” as a young woman who gradually comes to discover that her close-knit family has ties to organized crime.
Syrian director Ameer Fakher Eldin’s “The Stranger,” about a doctor going through an existential crisis in the occupied Golan Heights, took the prize for Arab film across all sections. Pic is Palestine’s international Oscar entry.
“Memory Box,” by Lebanese duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, who used journals and audio recordings they made while growing up in Beirut of the 1980s to make this experimental work about memory and resistance, won the prize for best film in the Arab cinema competition.
“First of all I’m really happy that we haven’t heard of any [COVID] cases so far,” said Cairo fest president Mohamed Hefzy. “And I hope it continues like that after the closing.”
“Obviously we continue to be very cautious. I would love to say that this is the last edition where we have to worry about COVID, but I have to be realistic: who knows what’s going to happen,” he added.
Hefzy noted that there were some industry guests who cancelled and a few filmmakers got stuck in their countries. “It was complicated,” he pointed out. “But we managed to cope with it and survive.”
Cairo Film Festival 2021 winners
Golden Pyramid for Best Film
“The Hole in the Fence” (Mexico, Poland)
Director: Joaquin del Paso –– Producers: Fernanda de la Peza, Joaquin del Paso
Silver Pyramid – special jury award for best director
“Small Body” (Italy, France, Slovenia)
Director: Laura Samani
Bronze Pyramid Award for best first or second work of a director
“Aloners” (South Korea)
Director: Hong Seong-eun
Naguib Mahfouz award for best screenplay
Henry Barakat award for best artistic contribution
Best Arab Film selected in any of the three competitions
The Horizons of New Arab Cinema Competition
Saad Eldin Wahba award for best Arabic film
“Memory Box,” Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige (Lebanon, France)
Salah Abu Seif award – special jury award
Non-Fiction film award
Acting performance award
Jury special mention
Youssef Cherif Rizkallah award – audience award
International Critics’ Week Competition
Shadi Abdel Salam award for best film
Fathy Farag award – special jury award