Egypt Independent

34th Cairo film festival kicks off amid ‘orgy of appreciation’



In a recent piece

on the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), journalist Sherif Awad complained that, because of low ticket sales, the festival has had to rely on private sponsors. This support, however, may force the festival to cater to the wants of the businesses that give them money. With EgyptAir as a sponsor, will the festival have to edit out movies that mar the reputation of the aviation business? Cash for no crash scenes?    

But once in a while the match between business and festival is made in sponsorship heaven. Such was the marriage of Makeup Forever–the sponsor of last night’s opening ceremony and gala–and the CIFF; if the festival posters are be to believed, the only woman who loved eye makeup more than the posh ladies in attendance was Egypt's Queen Nefertiti.    

Last night the ancient queen also showed her love for modern dance, taking the stage to a dramatic soundtrack, along with a dozen or so male dancers whose gold and black spandex covered even their heads–giving them a mugger look that made some in the audience worry for the queen’s safety. Luckily, a giant florescent blue eye of Horus had been set up in the stage background, like a pharaonic security camera.    

Following the avatars' gyrations, Egyptian film legend Omar Sherif, the festival's "honorary president," addressed the crowd in a charming–if meandering–speech about the Arabic letter "ein" and the pronunciation issues it presented for English and French speakers. It was a nice speech and a clever way for the star to spend some time in front of an international audience repeating his own name for posterity.

Ezzat Abou Ouf, the actual festival president, followed Sherif. Abou Ouf spoke about the power of cinema to "provide future generations with a visual history" of everything from the politics of the day to the "way we speak." Filmmakers and actors, he asserted, have not just an artistic, "but also a moral obligation" to their art.

Cinema as a means of binding generations within a culture was a sentiment echoed later by Richard Gere, whose words about the significance of local cinema resonated with the largely Egyptian crowd and with the festival's theme: "Egypt in the Eyes of the World Cinema." Gere expressed deep gratitude for the night's "orgy of appreciation," which he rightly called "a really beautiful thing." Fog from the side stage misted the eye of Horus.

French actor Juliette Binoche, the second of the night's international A-listers, had a different message for the crowd–one that channeled the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis and had something to do with taking better care of the environment. In spite of the vast time-line it covered, the speech was short.

A long procession of introductions for jury members and tributes to Egyptian film stars followed, with the decibel levels of the audience's cheers varying according to the popularity of the winner. Among the honorees were Fouad Said, inventor of the Cinemobile, actor Khalid Abdullah, South Korean actor Yun Jung hee, and producer Milad Bessada.

After the ceremony, the crowd gathered in the main rotunda of the Opera house theater, the women in their lavish, shining gowns resembling schools of tropical fish swimming around the large, floral centerpiece. That the flowers themselves–bright red buds surrounded by tall green stalks–looked like giant pieces of sushi said nothing about the mentality of the movie stars, who presumably spend considerable time pondering their mortality.

Judging by the bumper-to-bumper traffic from Gezirah to Shubra, most of those in attendance were eager to get to the festival gala at the Mohamed Ali palace. At least it was impossible to get lost. Those who smartly chose to arrive at the gala by helicopter would have been able to find the palace by the large spotlights shining from the doors and driveways into the cloudy Cairo sky (the same clouds that had, earlier that day, threatened to reroute the airplanes of visiting movie stars).

Security took the form of large men in pharaonic costume who stood at the top of the entrance stairs, beefy arms folded over their vests. If the guards were on loan from Egypt's notorious Pharaonic Village, their grain-making and fish-catching counterparts were in the kitchen, supplying hoards of waiters with piles of rolls and curled, pink smoked salmon for the huge number of guests who sat at long tables arranged around the palace's square pool.

On a large floating stage, dancers entertained the bustling guests, who, while they may not all have been film lovers, were obviously lovers of the cinematic.