Veteran Egyptian actor Hussein Fahmy was named on Wednesday as the new president of the Cairo International Film Festival, taking over from film producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy, who held the position for four years during which several of his productions sparked controversy.
The decision to replace Hefzy, who is widely credited for revamping the festival after its fell into disorder following years of political turbulence in Egypt, came from the country's Culture Minister Ines Abdeldayem, who issued a statement thanking Hefzy for his hard work and wishing him success in his future endeavours.
Abdeldayem said the festival will also hold an inauguration ceremony for its new president, and that this will become a new tradition for the event. Both the departing president and the newcomer will attend the ceremony each year as one hands over the baton to the other, she said.
“I am proud to have served as CIFF's president for the past four years. I hope that my and my brilliant team’s work has accomplished our goal of making CIFF a reputable festival on a local, regional and international level and turning it into an important platform for independent cinema, both in Egypt and the Arab world,” Hefzy said.
Hefzy’s long-time support of independent cinema has often put him at odds with Egypt’s more conservative commentators.
Last year, two films he produced were widely criticised for misrepresenting Egypt and its cultural ethics. The first was Feathers, which, though critically acclaimed abroad, sparked widespread criticism in Egypt over its depiction of extreme poverty, particularly in its less developed agricultural provinces.
Hefzy then came under fire again after the release of the Arab remake of Perfect Strangers, an Italian film which has been adapted into a number of languages. The Arab remake was produced by Film Clinic, which Hefzy founded and has headed since 2005.
The film was accused of promoting same-sex relationships and adultery as well as “offending Egyptian family values.”
Fahmy, 81, has starred in more than 100 Egyptian films which span over five decades. He previously served as Cairo International Film Festival's president between 1998 to 2001.
Starting his career in the early 1970s, Fahmy went on to become one of the decade's quintessential heart-throbs. His European look, with blue eyes and blonde hair, was in direct contrast with most Egyptian leading males at the time.
Fahmy, who is also noted for his humanitarian works, holds a master's degree in fine arts from UCLA and has served as a United Nations goodwill ambassador.