Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Cairo International Film Festival is the oldest cinematic gathering in the Arab and African world, with premieres held at the Opera House just yards away from the famous Nile river that brings life to all of Egypt. This year, featuring 196 films from 59 countries, there has been an impressive mix of A-List attendees, must-see movies, lively panels and world cinema gems.
Certainly, you have to credit the festival programme for good taste. The bigger films on offer included some of the best offerings of the past twelve months: Karyn Kusama’s gritty detective tale Destroyer, with Nicole Kidman; Matthew Heineman’s A Private War, the bio of war correspondent Marie Colvin; Spike Lee’s exuberant true-life tale of a black cop infiltrating the Klan, in BlackKklansman; and Peter Farrelly’s awards-bait tale Green Book, with Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen.
Ralph Fiennes also arrived in town for The White Crow, his third film as director. A lover of Russian history and culture, Fiennes turns to the story of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (a magnetic Oleg Ivenko) leading to his defection from the Soviet Union when he was a young man. Fiennes, as well as directing, plays his tutor Pushkin, speaking his lines in Russian with impressive confidence.
Of the films vying for prizes in the jury headed up by the esteemed director Bille August, the excellent Birds of Passage claimed Best Screenplay. Co-directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, who made the much-admired Embrace of the Serpent, this tale spans over a decade as it tells of the rise of the Wayuu clans in northern Colombia, as they begin to export marijuana and consequently face death and destruction. Paying heed to the customs and traditions, it’s a highly original take on the cartel genre.
The big winner was A Twelve-Year-Night, a harrowing story set in Uruguay in 1973 when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship and prisoners were subjected to torture and solitary confinement. Álvaro Brechner, the film’s writer-director, was on hand to collect the Golden Pyramid for Best Film as well as the FIPRESCI critics’ prize. From the UK, a special shout-out to Jamie Jones, who collected the Bronze Pyramid for his London drama Obey
Away from the prize-giving, the festival included a diverse range of strands. Among them, a look at Virtual Reality cinema, a tribute to novelist Ihsan Abdul Quddous and a focus on Russian cinema. Perhaps most intriguingly, the festival staged a section celebrating the work of eight Arab female directors, including such films as 3000 Nights by Palestinian director Mao Masri and Sharp Tools from the UAE’s Nujoom Alghanem. A panel entitled ‘Wonder Women’ also invited several female Arab filmmakers to talk over their experiences; now that feels progressive.
The Cairo International Film Festival ran from 20-29 November.
1. Still from Green Book.
2. Still from 3000 Nights.
3. Still from Birds of Passage.
4. Still from A Twelve-Year-Night.