Egypt’s capital is gearing up for the opening of one of the most anticipated events of its annual roster, the 43rd Cairo International Film Festival, which returns this month.
The festival will run from November 26 to December 5, with the usual round of screenings, talks, masterclasses, panel discussions and networking events.
This year, 98 films from 63 countries will participate in the event. Of the films being screened, 12 will be singled out with a red carpet event. Thirty-four films will be making their world debuts, while 44 others will have their Mena premieres at the event, said festival president Mohamed Hefzy at a press conference in Cairo on Sunday.
The festival will mostly take place at Cairo’s famed Opera House, in the district of Zamalek. However, this year, a couple of new venues have been added to the roster, including the newly renovated Ewart Hall, at the American University in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Campus, and the nearby Zamalek Cinema.
The opening film is Official Competition, starring Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, which will be screened for the first time in the Middle East after garnering critical acclaim at this year’s Venice Film Festival.
A number of Arab films are also expected to make their debuts in each of the four competitions. There is an international competition, a regional competition titled Horizons of Arab Cinema and one for short films. The most illustrious of all is the Critics Week competition.
“Cinema is a mirror for our culture, and one of the most important ways that we share that culture with the rest of the world,” said Hefzy.
A highlight of this year's festival is the number of short films participating, which surpasses all submissions from previous years. Hefzy said the short films competition is the only one in the Mena region and also doubles as an Oscars qualifier. The winner of the shorts competition takes home the festival’s prestigious Youssef Chahine Award.
The festival is also expected to hand out a number of other awards this year to single out different facets of filmmaking, including for best actor and actress.
The recipient of the prestigious Faten Hamama Award, given each year to a prominent figure in the Arab world's film industry for outstanding achievements, will be Egyptian superstar Karim Abdel Aziz, who is being recognised for a three-decade career during which he has played a number of beloved roles.
The festival’s highest honour, the Golden Pyramid Award, will be given to veteran actress and performer Nelly, one of the most recognisable Egyptian celebrities of the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
One of the festival's main partners this year is Netflix, which will hold a number of lectures and panel discussions.
The streaming company will also run Because She Created, an initiative that is predominantly focused on works by female directors. It will explore the growing role of women in the region’s film and entertainment industry as well as some of the challenges they face. One of the panel discussions will feature award-winning Tunisian actress Hend Sabri.
This year also marks the return of Cairo Industry Days, a subsection of the festival that helps budding filmmakers from the Mena region get into the industry.
Through the festival’s Cairo Film Connection platform, which pledges cash prizes through various sponsors to support new film projects submitted to the festival, $300,000 worth of prizes from 22 sponsors are expected to be doled out. That is in addition to the cash prizes awarded by the festival’s competitions.
In a bid to boost the country’s tourism sector, the festival is being supported by state-run and affiliated entities as it’s being overseen by the country’s culture ministry and Experience Egypt, the digital arm of Egypt’s tourism promotion authority.
The 43rd Cairo International Film Festival will take place from Friday, November 26 to Sunday, December 5. More information is available at ciff.org