Cairo Industry Head: Nurturing Bold and Boundary-Pushing Arab Director

The fifth edition of the Cairo Film Festival’s industry arm, Cairo Industry Days, will look to further cement its growing reputation as one of the Arab film world’s premier industry platforms when it runs from Nov. 17 – 22.

Launched by former festival president Mohamed Hefzy, the Egyptian producer who stepped down from his post earlier this year, the event has quickly taken a place alongside the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops and the Red Sea Film Festival’s Souk as key meeting points connecting Arab and international filmmakers.

“It’s both challenging but also exciting,”Reem Allam, newly appointed industry head, spoke about her plans to take up her position with Amir Ramses, the incoming festival director, and Lynda Belkhiria as new Cairo Film Connection manager. “We’re not bound by traditional ways of doing things. There’s some freedom in that.”

This year’s event will include a wide-ranging program of masterclasses, conversations, workshops and panel discussions featuring award-winning filmmakers and industry experts from around the world. The Cairo Film Connection coproduction market features 15 projects from 10 North African and Middle East countries.

Among the highlights are masterclasses with Hungarian director Béla Tarr, French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz and Japanese director Naomi Kawase, who will lead the international competition jury; and conversations with Egyptian screen star Lebleba, who will receive a Golden Pyramid Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival, and Egyptian filmmaker Kamla Abu Zekry, who will be honored with the Faten Hamama Excellence Award.

The festival also offers workshops for Egyptian filmmakers. These workshops provide the industry with practical tools to go deeper into the craft than public sessions. “We want Industry Days to not just be a place where young filmmakers hear an inspiring talk for two hours, but to actually be a place where they can develop their skills,”Allam stated.

The workshops will include a five-day immersive session with American cinematographer Irvin Luu that focuses on storytelling art and craft, as well as a 10-day workshop lead by Tarr. The director will offer one-on-one mentoring to 10 up-and-coming Egyptian filmmakers, who will use the course to develop and shoot a scene under the Hungarian screen legend’s tutelage. “It’s another level of giving developmental opportunities for filmmakers to develop their skills and find a cinematic voice and get inspired by alternative ways of filmmaking,”Allam.

Another industry session will look at the growing move toward eco-friendly film production through a distinctly regional lens, with several filmmakers appearing in conversation alongside Bassam Alasad, the founder of Jordan’s Greener Screen initiative. The panel will discuss how film productions in North Africa and the Middle East can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Of Greener Screen, Allam noted that it’s “inspiring to see an Arab initiative encouraging Arab producers to be more green.”

Cairo Industry Days will highlight the rapidly growing Saudi Arabian film sector, which has been supported by a host of private and public investment. “It’s a booming market,” said Allam, citing the Red Sea Film Festival’s $14 million fund for projects by Arab and African directors as an example of how the kingdom has become a driving force for production not only in the host country, but across the region. The Cairo panel will explore ways to achieve this. “we as an Arab market can all benefit,”She continued.

It’s been a strong year for Arab cinema, with filmmakers from the region occupying coveted slots at top-shelf festivals including Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Not only is international exposure important, but so too is the increasing number of Arab films dealing with taboo subjects.

Cairo Industry Head: Nurturing Bold and Boundary-Pushing Arab Director

Maryam Touzani’s “The Blue Caftan,”This is an example of Arab filmmakers taking on taboo subjects, focusing on a closeted tailor.

Moroccan director-writer Maryam Touzani’s “The Blue Caftan,”The story, which won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes, is about a closeted tailor living in Casablanca. Algerian director Mounia Meddour’s uplifting drama “Houria” (pictured, top), which will have its Middle East premiere in Cairo, is the story of a gifted dancer who dreams of joining the Algerian National Ballet until a violent assault shatters that dream — and offers her an unexpected pathway to rebuilding her life.

They’re exactly the sorts of daring stories from Arab filmmakers that Cairo Industry Days is hoping to support. “We need people who are taking risks,”Allam. “I really hope that we continue to push boundaries.”

The Cairo Intl. Film Festival runs Nov. 13 – 22.

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