India was the guest of honour at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), which opened in Cairo on with the screening of John Abraham-Katrina Kaif starrer New York directed by Kabir Khan. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the internationally renowned Indian filmmaker, was chairperson of the International Jury.

(10th to 20th November 2009)
Exclusive Report by: Shoma A. Chatterji

India was the guest of honour at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), which opened in Cairo on with the screening of John Abraham-Katrina Kaif starrer New York directed by Kabir Khan. Adoor Gopalakrishnan, the internationally renowned Indian filmmaker, was chairperson of the International Jury. Two others, namely Vikas Swarup, Indian Consul-General to Osaka, Japan and Namrata Joshi, film critic, were Indian jury members in the Digital Competition Section and the FIPRESCI Jury respectively. Swarup is the author of Q & A on which Slumdog Millionnaire was based.

[ReviewAZON asin=”B002HI6LGK” display=”inlinepost”]Two Indian films, New York directed by Kabir Khan and Madholal Keep Walking, a debut film by Jai Tank, featured in the International Competition for Long Feature Films. This section screened 17 films drawn across countries like Argentina, Hungary, France, Russia, Lithuania, Sri Lanka, Slovenia, Morocco, Mexico, Turkey, etc. Mudhal Mudhal Mudhal Varai (First Time)’ by Krishna Seshadri Gomatam was selected for the digital competition section. This film bagged the Silver Award (jointly) in the section for its “engaging look at man’s eternal struggle to understand the meaning of life and death. The jury found the director’s use of a lighthearted narrative to explore a serious theme both innovative and endearing.” It is about an aspiring filmmaker who is desperately trying to make his first film and his future depends on his success in making it.
The other Silver Award went to Exile in Paris (France) directed by Ahmet Zirek for “the director’s lived experience and creative use of phone conversations that gave an added dimension to the poignant quest for identity in a world full of borders.” Subrat Dutta, the main actor in Madholal Keep Walking, won the Best Actor Award (jointly) for his sustained and convincing performances portraying a man up against life’s travails with the pain and humour inherent in the situation. It is about an ordinary man whose life changes when he loses an arm in the Mumbai train bomb blasts in July some years back. The other winner is Egyptian actor Fathy Abdel Wahab for his performance in Nile Birds.

33rd CIFF: Feature India
33rd CIFF: Feature India

Incredible India featured around 23 Indian films. This was a wonderful selection of the works of internationally renowned filmmakers along with up-and-coming young filmmakers of promise, some digital films and also films, both regional and Hindi, that stood out for their insight into socially significant issues that involve us all. This section included a retrospective of films by Madhur Bhandarkar. This section screened Adoor’s Four Women, Girish Kasaravalli’s Gulabi Talkies, Vishal Bharadwaj’s Kaminey, Kabir Khan’s New York, Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday and Bhawna Talwar’s Dharm.

Among films committed to social issues within the feature film framework was Satish Manwar’s Gabhricha Paus (Marathi) on farmer suicides in Vidharba in Maharashtra. This film has already been screened at 15 State, National and International Film Festivals. Another powerful issue-centric film was Sameer Hanchate’s Gafla (Hindi) on the stock market scam. This film was also screened at the IFFI, Goa in 2007 and at The Times BFI 50th London Film Festival in 2006. Priya Darshan’s Kanchivaram is set against the backdrop of Kanchi’s silk weaving industry. The story is about a man trapped within the force of circumstance and the conflict between his adopted ideals and his individual dreams. Seema Kapoor’s Haat – The Weekly Bazaar is based on the custom called natha-pratha in which in some parts of Rajasthan, if a married woman wishes to leave her husband for some reason, her father or whoever supports her must pay compensation to the husband.

18 films were screened in Official Selection – Out of Competition. Some of the films in this section offered a glimpse into a scary world of mental instability, loneliness and alienation on the one hand and meaningless, purposeless violence on the other. Examples are – The Limits of Control (USA/Spain/Japan), New Town Killers (UK), The Soloist (France), Ward Number 6 (Russia), Lost Times (Hungary), Mr. 73 (France) among others.

The International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI) went to the French film The Hedgehog (France), directed by Mona Achache. The film is the story of an unexpected discovery made by an 11-year-old girl who is as gifted as she is suicidal. The film also bagged the Special Jury Prize for the young director. Klaus Haro of Finland won the Best Screenwriter award for Letters to Father Jacob “structuring a story that is constantly engaging and offering surprises as it goes onto celebrate the essence of humanity.” It also won the Prize for the Best Film for its excellent cinematic form and the deep study of human condition that went to its producer. The Golden Award in the Digital Competition section was won by The Rapture of “Fe” (Phillipines) directed by Alvin B. Yapan “for its sensitive portrayal of a woman caught between an abusive husband and an impotent lover, in the process illuminating our understanding of human relationships. The film stood out for its unflinching realism and strong performances that brought alive the complexity of a woman’s quest for fulfillment.” Karolina Piechota won the Best Actress Award for her performance in Splinters (Poland) for the warmth, humour and credibility she brought to her role.
The Syrian film That Long Night directed by Hatem Ali, bagged one of the two awards given away by the Ministry of Culture, Egypt, for the Best Film in the Arabic Feature Films Section for its bold portrayal of a relevant issue, and a heart-breaking phenomenon gripping a community. The other top award went to the Palestinian film Amreeka directed by Cherien Dabis. The film managed to bring together the finest aspects of scriptwriting, storytelling, and performance to create an artistic work that is simultaneously entertaining, gripping, and attractive to mainstream and art house audiences alike. It also won the award for the Best Screenplay from the Ministry of Culture for Cherien Dabis.

More than 30 leading Indian films graced the festival red carpet. Many of them, such as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shridevi, Boney Kapoor, short filmmaker Sandeep Wadhwa and Madhur Bhandarkar were bestowed trophies for their rich contribution to Indian cinema. Other celebrities present were Kabir Khan, Jay Tank, Sameer Hanchate, Krishna Seshadri Gomatam, Irrfan Khan and Celina Jaitley who flew in for the closing ceremony. An enlightening symposium on Indian Cinema was held at Hotel Sofitel El Gezirah addressed by Egyptian film critic Fawzi Soliman, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Boney Kapoor and Sandeep Marwah along with presentations made by Egyptian distributors of Indian films in Egypt.  A comprehensive overview of contemporary Indian mainstream cinema was made by this writer as an opening to the symposium.
One of best attractions of the festival was the screening of the Egyptian classic Al Mummia (The Night of Counting the Years) directed by Shadi Abdel Salam in 1969 screened on the “Sound and Light” stage in the Pyramids area with a chilly wind blowing, and the Sphinx lit in blue, hovering in the background. Set in 1881, on the eve of British Colonial Rule, the film is based on the true story of the Abd el-Rasuls, an upper-Egyptian clan that had been robbing a cache of mummies discovered at tomb DB320 near Kurna village and selling them illegally in the black market. Despite the danger to his life, one of them goes to the police and helps the Antiquities Service to find the cache.

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