Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans to Open Cairo Film Festival

Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” will open the 44th edition of the Cairo Film Festival, the Arab world’s venerable cinematic showcase, which takes place Nov. 13 – 22.

The Oscar-winning director’s semi-autobiographical film, which follows the formative years of a young man who discovers movies as a means to help him see the truth about others and himself, earned a standing ovation following its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

This year’s event in the Egyptian capital, which takes place as most film festivals and industry events have returned to business as usual after two years of pandemic cancellations and disruptions, nevertheless unfolds against a backdrop of global uncertainty.

Festival president Hussein Fahmy conjured the specter of war in Ukraine as he described a “year of ambitions and challenges” in a statement, posing the questions: “Where do we go from here? How can the festival take new steps, in particular, in light of an artistic scene dominated by the specter of a world war that has changed the global economic landscape and directly affected us locally?”

Fahmy insisted, however, that cinema remains “a bridge between cultures,” adding: “War and politics divide, nevertheless art heals the wounds created by conflict and eventually becomes a language with an alphabet known and belonging to everyone.”

The Cairo Film Festival will feature seven films in its Horizons of Arab Cinema competition, which opens with the world premiere of Egyptian filmmaker Sherief Elkatsha’s documentary “Far From the Nile.” Other standouts include the world premiere of “The Family,” by Algerian director Merzak Allouache, who was named Variety’s Middle East Filmmaker of the Year in 2013, and the Middle East premiere of Mounia Meddour’s “Houria,” which arrives in Cairo after bowing at the Rome Film Festival.

In the main competition, Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla’s “19 B” will screen among 14 titles vying for the festival’s Golden Pyramid, including Ali Cherri’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight player “The Dam,” Damian Kocur’s Venice prize winner “Bread and Salt” and Maksym Nakonechnyi’s Cannes Un Certain Regard selection “Butterfly Vision.”

As previously announced, Japanese director Naomi Kawase will head the international competition jury, which includes Egyptian cinematographer Nancy Abdelfattah, Indian actress Swara Bhasker, Egyptian composer Rageh Daoud, Italian actress Stefania Casini, Mexican filmmaker Joaquin Del Paso and Moroccan actor Samir Guesmi.

The festival will present Golden Pyramid Lifetime Achievement Awards to Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, who will host a masterclass, and Egyptian screen star Lebleba, who will appear in conversation during the festival. Egyptian filmmaker Kamla Abu Zekry will also be honored with the Faten Hamama Excellence Award.

In addition, organizers have restored two seminal works of Arab cinema — Tawfiq Saleh’s “Yawmiyyat Na’ib Fl Aryaf” (Diary of a Country Prosecutor) and Ali Abdel Khaleq’s “Ughnia ala al-Mamar” (Passageway Song) — in what Fahmy hopes will be “the beginning of a long-term project and role for the festival.” Both films will be presented during special screenings.

This year’s event marks the first as festival director for Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses, who was appointed earlier this year after prominent producer Mohamed Hefzy stepped down as president. Ramses described his new role as a “huge responsibility,” recalling his years as “a young cinema fan” who “was introduced to the many worlds of cinema” at the Cairo festival, where two of his own films also screened.

“Perhaps being appointed in a position which was taken by many prestigious names, on top of which is my valued mentor, the late film critic and programmer Youssef Cherif Rizkallah, was a way to give back and pay my respect to an institution that made me the filmmaker I am today,” Ramses said in a statement.

Taking place from Nov. 17 – 22, Cairo Industry Days will present a wide-ranging program of masterclasses, conversations, workshops and panel discussions featuring award-winning filmmakers and industry experts from around the world. Among them are masterclasses with Tarr and jury president Kawase; a session with Netflix VFX manager Ben Perry on creating spectacle VFX; and panels on green film production and the rise of Saudi cinema.

The Cairo Film Connection co-production market will showcase 15 projects from 10 countries across North Africa and the Middle East, including five from the host country. Awards will be handed out Nov. 20 by a jury composed of Berlin International Film Festival managing director Mariette Rissenbeek, Egyptian filmmaker and curator Viola Shafik, and Tunisian director Raja Amari.

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