Following in the footsteps of other major festivals, the Cairo International Film Festival (Ciff) is readying for an “exceptional edition” on December 2, said Egyptian producer, scriptwriter, and festival president Mohamed Hefzy.
Eighty-four films from 43 countries, boasting 33 Mena premieres, are scheduled to screen across a number of venues in Cairo, marking the festival’s 42nd iteration.
With almost half of the total number of films that were screened last year, and under strict safety procedures, the team behind Ciff is keen for the show to go on. “The most important thing for us was for the festival to continue, for the sake of filmmakers,” said Hefzy.
At the press conference, Hefzy also announced that this year the festival will include two new award categories: a cash prize of $5,000 for the best short film — the first prize of its kind in Ciff's history — and an award for best female representation. This year's programme includes 21 pictures by female directors, in line with the festival commitment to the Gender Parity Pledge 5050×2020, which it signed in 2018, becoming the first Arab festival to join the Cannes-born initiative.
The Father, the Oscar-buzzed moving drama from French playwright and director Florian Zeller, will kick off the festival. Starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, the film based on a play by Zeller, is centred around an ageing man who fails to admit that he's getting older, thus refuses to accept his daughter's help.
Fifteen films are competing in the official competition, including three Egyptian entries, which is a rare occurrence in Ciff’s recent history.
There's Curfew, Amir Ramsis's sixth feature film that explores family secrets; and Islam Azzazi's About Her, which follows a woman who is forced to reckon with her life after her husband suddenly walks out on her. Azzazi is returning to the festival after taking part in the Cairo Film Connection last year. Lift Like A Girl, a celebrated documentary about a 14-year-old female weightlifter that took Mayye Zayed four years to shoot, will also compete.
The festival lineup includes Gaza Mon Amour from the Palestinian brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, "one of the most important Arab films of the year," according to Andrew Mohsen, Egyptian film critic and member of the Ciff selection committee. The drama, which is based on true events, premiered at the Venice International Film Festival in September and went on to win the Netpac award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
According to Mohsen, among the anticipated films from outside the region is Limbo, an offbeat comedy by Scottish writer-director Ben Sharrock which premiered in Toronto starring Egypt's Amir El-Masry. The film follows four Syrian asylum seekers on a faraway island in Scotland as they enrol in cultural awareness classes while they wait for their application for political asylum to be processed.
From Venice comes Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time, a dark melodrama by Hungarian director Lili Horvat and Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, which is screening out of competition.
For many, one of the most cherished components of Ciff is the Horizons of Arab Cinema. At 50 per cent of last year's selection, the competition will kick off with Abdulaziz Alshlahei's anticipated feature The Tambour of Retribution, "a very important experiment from Saudi Arabia," said Ramy Abdel Razek, another member of the selection committee. The only other documentary to compete in this category is On The Fence by Egyptian director Nesrine El-Zayat, which will have its world premiere.
In the short film competition, 16 films will compete for the top prize, including Sherif El-Bendary's Sunday At Five from Egypt, Mourad Mostafa's Henet Ward from Egypt, Rim Nakhli's Nour from Tunisia, Yasser Shafiey's The Man Who Swallowed The Radio from Egypt, Sara Mesfer's The Girls Who Burned the Night from Saudi Arabia.
Outside the competition, audiences will get a chance to see Marwan Nabil's About a Girl and I'm Afraid To Forget Your Face, which was just crowned best Arab short at El Gouna Film Festival after scooping up the Palme D'Or in Cannes.
The fourth and final competition is the Critics Week, which is scheduled to screen seven films from four continents, including My Name is Baghdad (Brazil) and Sow the Wind (Italy / Greece / France), both of which premiered at Berlinale earlier this year.
This year's achievement awards will go to Egyptian author and scriptwriter Wahid Hamed and British playwright, screenwriter and director Christopher Hampton. Meanwhile, Egyptian actress Mona Zaki will be awarded the Faten Hamama Excellence Award, named after the revered Egyptian actress.
Safety measures at the 2020 Cairo International Film Festival
Like El Gouna Film Festival before it, Ciff will operate on a 50 per cent capacity. In addition, seats will be sanitised after every screening. The organisers are ushering in stricter precautions for all red carpet screenings, including testing all staff and members of the press 48 hours before the start of the festival.
As for guests, Ciff is setting up a medical assistance unit at the hotel where stars will be staying. “We will also give them the option of testing, by providing vouchers for free tests to all guests invited to the opening and closing ceremonies.”
The Cairo International Film Festival will run from Wednesday, December 2 and Thursday, December 10, 2020