A short walk from Tahrir Square lays the quaint open-air courtyard of the Goethe Institute, the site of Cairo’s annual Independent Film Festival. The theme of this year’s festival was “New Shorts from Egypt,” a collage of scenes from the grueling lives of the average Egyptian.
Now in its 11th year, the festival, which kicked off this past Sunday and concluded on Tuesday, continues to show signs of evolution. With new and improved competition rules and a record number of female submissions, the 24 participating films voiced the concerns, dreams and social issues observed prior to the January 25 Revolution.
Local filmmaker and curator of this year’s festival, Ahmed Nour, told Daily News Egypt, “This year, there is strong female presence both in the subject matter of the films and in the directors.”
Nour added, “While most of the films revolve around issues of concern to women, I believe that women’s concerns reflect wider social issues relevant to both sexes.”
The opening film, “Beit Sha’ar” (Nomad’s House) by Egyptian filmmaker Iman Kamel did just that. The 59-minute poetic essay, one of the longer festival submissions, is homage to the Bedouin women of the Sinai Peninsula.
The film gives viewers a window into the nontraditional life of Bedouin social entrepreneur Selema Gabaly and her various gender-related obstacles.
Selema was the first woman in her village to break the social taboos of finishing school and later managing a handicraft project involving almost every woman in her Al-Gabalya tribe. This alone makes her a renegade for the rights of Bedouin women in Sinai — rights she has had to fight hard for and justify since she was a young girl.
“Her Beautiful Voice” tells an uplifting tale of human sentiment with subtle humor in this 23-minute fictional film. Foreign director, Jennifer Peterson, walks viewers through the mundane life of Aisha, an unappreciated mother and housewife whose only solace comes from singing while she works.
While Aisha’s voice may only be beautiful in her own head, the film reminds us that dreams, sometimes, do come true.
Death was the main theme of the festival’s second day with tales of an undertaker, a comical sociopath, and a modern day Grim Reaper.
Dina Hamza’s documentary, “In/Out of the Room,” provides a perceptive yet disturbing insight into the life of an Egyptian executioner, Hussein or ‘Ashmawi’ as he is known.
Hamza’s honest portrayal of Hussein’s double life, in and outside the death chamber, proves that death is no easy feat, even for a hangman.
Commenting on Hussein, Hamza said, “Despite being branded with death, he was a very fun person to talk to — makes jokes frequently. At the end of the day he is a human being, not the grim reaper. It is his job.”
Newcomer Sara Abdallah presents a humorous take on the philosophes of a sociopath in her first short film, “All Too Human!” The film shadows a man who thinks his discovery will save humanity, and therefore tries to implement his project for getting rid of socially useless people.
Sara’s cynical view is masked with satirical humor in the well-written dialogue between the main characters. When asked if her film has ties with Nietzsche’s similar titled book on “free spirits,” she said: “I’ve read parts of his book, it seems me and Nietzsche have a connection.”
This year, for the first time, the festival added a third-day guest program including new shorts from Dok Leipzig, the largest documentary film festival in Germany. Both documentaries, “Ostliche Landshcaft” (Eastern Landscape) and “Leipzig im Herbst” (Leipzig in the Fall), deal with the German revolution and fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Largely wordless, “Ostliche Landshcaft” portrays the landscapes of Eastern Germany following the destruction of the Berlin wall. The slow-paced surreal film attempts to prove that “history turned into garbage” with the fall of the wall.
Abundant with inspiration, Andreas Voigt’s, “Leipzig im Herbst” transports the audience back into the midst of the German revolution. This comprehensive portrayal of the demonstrations in Leipzig from October 16-November 7, 1989 includes interviews with protesters, members of the oppositional groups, security forces and average citizens.
The festival wrapped up with a lively awards ceremony spread over six categories. Iman Kamel won best direction and cinematography for “Beit Sha’ar” while Essam Fayez took home best sound and best editing for his fictional short, “Nasr” — a somber tale of a singing undertaker
Ahmed El-Samra’s “Colored Black” received best screenplay and the best film award that came with a cash prize of LE 3,500. The short film’s simple and thought-provoking story reminds us, that while we can’t control everything in life, we can control how we perceive things.