Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy on joining the Sundance Film Festival jury

The Cairo International Film Festival president was recently in Dubai for the release of 'Perfect Strangers'

Mohamed Hefzy says he is looking for films that show exciting places and diversity from world cinema. Nada El Sawy / The National
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Egyptian film producer and president of the Cairo International Film Festival, Mohamed Hefzy, will be sitting on the World Cinema Dramatic Competition jury at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

The invitation is a recognition of his pivotal position in the Arab film world.

"It's really an honour to be on such a jury," Hefzy, 46, tells The National. "Sundance is one of the great festivals and always discovers great new talents from the US and worldwide. It's a competition I've participated in as a producer, and I'm happy to be a jury member."

I want to watch the films in the best quality possible and respect the intention of the filmmakers as much as I can
Mohamed Hefzy, film producer

His fellow jurors are film director Andrew Haigh, who made 45 Years and Lean on Pete, and La Frances Hui, the esteemed Museum of the Modern Art film curator.

Since the invite landed, the Sundance Film Festival has had to move online because of the spread of Omicron. "So I'm going to be watching [it] at home, projecting the films on to a big screen," says Hefzy, who admits he's lucky to have excellent screening facilities at home. "I want to watch the films in the best quality possible and respect the intention of the filmmakers as much as I can.

"In an ideal world, I would like to have been in Park City, Utah. I always think it's great to have that energy to watch films in the theatre with the jury and sometimes with the audience. I think this is the next best thing, watching the films in a controlled environment with good quality sound and video."

There are 10 films in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition: Brian and Charles, a comedy about a robot set in Wales; Dos Estaciones, which essays life in a struggling tequila plant in Mexico; Gentle, about a female bodybuilder preparing for the world championship; the Finnish coming-of-age tale Girl Picture; Klondike, a drama set in East Ukraine in the aftermath of the flight MH17 crash; Leonor Will Never Die, about an ageing actress's battle to stay relevant; the Brazilian political drama Marta Um (Mars One); Chilean environmental drama The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future; Utama, about a drought in the Bolivian and Altiplano; and You Won't Be Alone, a period drama set in a mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia.

Hefzy says he is "looking for films that show exciting places and diversity from world cinema, and it's going to be exciting to discover some of these films and filmmakers".

These will not be the only films that Hefzy watches. "I intend to watch films outside of the World Dramatic Competition. I'm keen to watch Arab films, some of the American titles and as many documentaries as possible, as I think Sundance has proven itself one of the best launching platforms for documentaries."

He says some of these may end up at the Cairo International Film Festival this year. Last year, Hive debuted in the World Cinema Dramatic before playing in Cairo. "I'm not the one who selects the film in Cairo, that is the artistic director, but as president, I do have a voice, and sometimes I do recommend films, so some of these films may end up in Cairo."

See photos from the opening of the Cairo Film Festival in 2021:

He sees Sundance as a potential model for Arab film festivals. "Sundance helped independent films in America thrive. Very few festivals in the Arab world have managed to do that. I think [at] Cairo [film festival], we try to support Arab cinema, Dubai used to support Arab cinema in a great way, and I think now the Red Sea International Film Festival is really aiming to do that, aside from other festivals like El Gouna and Carthage."

At the moment, he says, "Arab films try to launch in A-list festivals in the West, but the premiere in the Arab world will always give those films a spotlight for them to be written about in the regional press and get exposure".

Since establishing his production company Film Clinic in 2005, Hefzy has been behind some of the Middle East's most important films, including Clash, Yomeddine, Huda's Salon and Souad. These are only the tip of an enormous iceberg.

His new film, Perfect Strangers, starring Mona Zaki, Nadine Labaki and Eyad Nasser, is the first Arabic Netflix Original.

"I've just been in Dubai where we held an event, showing the film to a small audience before it will be released on Netflix on the 20th. It's quite an honour to be behind the first Arabic Original Film, especially after having been executive producer on the first Egyptian original series Paranormal."

Hefzy never stops working. He currently has a film in production and two more planned for the end of the year, which he says he'll reveal either after Berlin or just before the Cannes Film Festival. But first, he has judging duties.

Sundance Film Festival runs from Thursday, January 20 to Sunday, January 30

Updated: January 18, 2022, 5:42 PM