Emerging 10 months after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak, and in the midst of Egypt’s most significant parliamentary elections — the Panorama of European Film is coming back to Cairo against all odds.
Misr International Films is gearing for the fourth edition of its annual European film fest, held from Nov. 23-29, at Galaxy Cinema in Manial and Stars Cinema in CityStars, Nasr City.
Boasting an impressive line-up that includes Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist,” the Dardenne brother’s “The Kid with a Bike,” Pedro Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In,” Wim Wenders’ “Pina,” James March’s “Project Nim” and Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” among several other titles, the weeklong panorama is cementing its reputation as the most exciting and most popular film fest in the country. It gains an additional importance this year, filling the void left by the cancelation of the Cairo International Film Festival whose managerial structure has been largely overhauled.
Marianne Khoury, the mastermind behind the Panorama, expressed the dire necessity to address the fundamental changes currently befalling Egypt. Hosting a cultural event of this nature is crucial, particularly due to the significant socio-political realities that are often presented through the medium of cinema.
Daily News Egypt spoke to Marianne Khoury about the upcoming Panorama, the cultural responsibility of cinema, and timing of the program, which will haphazardly align with what promise to be Egypt’s first democratic parliamentary elections in decades.
Daily News Egypt: Now in its fourth year, we hear the Panorama is even bigger, offering more titles and educational programs. In a nutshell, what can we expect out of this year’s edition?
Marianne Khoury: This year, we’re hosting 30 screenings of movies that were commercial success in Europe and that have generated a buzz at the European Film Festivals (Berlin, Cannes, Venice … etc.). It is far bigger than previous years. We are becoming even more ambitious, crazier, and more stubborn, still all in one week.
But there is something new this year. In an educational initiative aimed at reaching a bigger audience, we are going outside of the cinemas. We are bringing the cinema to the Ain Shams district, organizing screenings of German shorts (accompanied with Arabic subtitles) aimed at children, but compatible for the whole family. The goal is to build cultural awareness in districts that do not have accessibility to modern cinemas, while also hoping to inspire next generation filmmakers.
Along with the “Rendez-Vous” section dedicated to documentaries, there is a “revolution” themed section (which includes the Egyptian premiere of Egyptian documentary “The Good, the Bad and the Politician”). Can you tell us the reasoning behind the latter?
Having a revolution section is obviously relevant to what we’re currently experiencing; it’s interesting and important to see other [revolution] experiences and how other people have gone through it. There are fundamental changes currently taking place in Egypt. This section will allow local audiences to contrast and compare different revolutions in space and time.
Maybe these films existed before but were not relevant to an audience here until now. This will hopefully create a lot of debate over the films. Luckily enough and happily enough, most of the directors are coming. We have director, Roman Goupil coming from France, and he will stay the whole period because he wants to meet all kinds of audiences. He’s the one who made “Mourir à 30 ans” which will be screened in the program. Goupil will also run master classes. We want to create interesting debate and understanding.”
The goal really, is to find the balance between the commercial and cultural theater [experience].
The timing of the Panorama coincides with the peak of the parliamentary elections. How did this happen and are you concerned?
I’ll tell you something; it’s either do it then or cancel it completely this year. If we kept pushing it back and pushing it back, the year would be over. Most festivals were cancelled this year and we had already started working on this year’s edition since January. Most don’t realize that [the Panorama] requires a lot of hard work and takes a long time to prepare.
Several reports over the years have claimed that, despite the growing popularity of the Panorama, you end up losing money as the acquisition rights of some of the films outweighed ticket sales…
First, I just want to clarify one point. We call ourselves the ‘Panorama of the European Films’ because we are not technically a festival as we don’t have a competition. Sure, we are showing films, we are hosting discussions and seminars; we are creating space for people to meet and see films within the best possible conditions. But in the region now, distributors are treating us like major regional festivals such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha. That’s not a good place to be in, financially speaking, since some of the films cost upwards of $5,000 before negotiations.
Last year, we broke even, but we didn’t make any money. We don’t make any profit, but I’m very happy if I break even, and my main goal is simply for people to come and watch these films. Last year we sold something like 4,000 tickets, and we brought in 5,000 people from schools and universities. What we try to do is create a balance between selling tickets and giving away free tickets.
The Panorama is rapidly becoming one of the biggest exhibitions for European films in the region. In the climate we are living in now, and with questions about the increasing conservatisms, how do you see the role of movies and the future of this Panorama?
The Panorama is an extension of what we [as filmmakers] do; it is an extension of our being. If conservatism rules the country, maybe we won’t be able to work any longer, but it won’t only be the Panorama that will leave, everyone may have to leave. But I don’t think this is going to happen, it’s much more complex than that. I believe you can always get things done.
Egypt has a huge problem, it’s not only the rising conservatism; it is the construction of the economy, the illiteracy rate, lack of education and cultural awareness. And this is why, in order for the film industry to continue to exist, we have to go into cultural awareness, and maybe we will only make a tiny little mark, but hopefully we can inspire people.
For more information on the fourth Panorama of the European Film, visit www.misreurofilms.net. Our extensive coverage of the Panorama begins this week with previews of the featured films.
Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist.
Panorama starts on Nov. 23 and ends on Nov. 29.