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Cairo Film Fest to go Italiano.

Julius Caesar meets Cleopatra, again? It could happen at the upcoming 28th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), which will present more than 200 films from 30 countries, November 30-December 10. The event will take place at the centrally located Opera House and in 14 theaters around Cairo, as the Festival highlights its Italian "connection." A large delegation of approximately 60 members of the Italian entertainment industry is expected to attend with an Italian film-TV seminar and a tribute to Italian cinema.

France was celebrated at last year's event with French distributors like Flache Pyramide chief Eric Lagesse, French producer Export's president Jacques Le Glou and Humbert Balzan (known for his collaborations with Egyptian director Youseff Chahine) discussing the prevailing difficulties of screening French films in Egypt and the theatrical release of Egyptian films in France.

Italian-Egyptian film and TV exchanges have even less of a scope for interchange except for increasing TV programming and co-productions.

"This year's festival focus on Italian cinema should open doors for more Italian and Arab co-productions and we expect to have a moderate marker," said Cairo Film Festival president Cherif Shoubashy, also First Secretary of Egypt International Cultural Relations.

He then added that, "[We] signed a cooperation agreement with Venice Film Festival president Marco Muller when I attended the Festival in September. I also met with the new Cine Citta director and others there to invite officials and others from Italian cinema. Due to the fact that there are problems in the Middle East area, a misunderstanding in the Western world thinks that Egypt is a dangerous place." According to Shoubashy, "that is why this festival is so important--to let cinema prove that it is the most important method of peace. We believe our mission is not only to show films but to bridge the gap between East and West."

The Cairo International Film Festival has a tradition of bringing different countries together in a platform of films, festivities and a film market, as a focal point in the Arab region. Like many festivals, the market's selling stalls have shifted gears from a dynamic selling and buying arena (once coordinated by Laser TV chief Raymond Iskander) to serious discussions and seminars on co-productions, distribution and sales and finance. The set-up is similar to last year's first-ever Arab Film Financing Conference and Networking, set in a country which is the leading producer of films and TV series in the Middle East.

"We hope, this year, for increased attendance from Satellite TV and other film producers in the region in a special seminar on Arab film production, as well as the Italian-Egyptian discussion," said Khaled Khamissi, last year's market director and president of TV and film company Nile Production, currently involved in Egypt TV production. "The Cairo International Film Festival Market cannot compete with active markets like CAMAR TV but we hope that those attending from the film and TV industry in the west will establish new contacts with those in the Middle East region."

The jury will be chaired by Italian Director Pupi Avati (Il Cuore Altrove) and includes American writer-director Alexander Payne (Election), Syrian National Film Center director Mohamed Al-Ahmad and other members still yet to be decided. Organizers are currently negotiating with American filmmaker Michael Moore and Italian director of photography Vittorio Storaro for opening night tributes.

Competition films include Argentinean director Hector Olivera's Ay Juancito, about Eva Peron's brother, Bahrain director Bassam Al-Thawadi's Visitor, about a woman who has visions of a mysterious man and Spanish director Andres Waissbluth's The Debutantes, about two brothers' love affair with a stripper.

Guests will include Belgium-born actress Luhna Azabal, who will attend the screening of her latest film, Exiles by Tony Galif, winner of the last Cannes Festival best director award for the story about an Algerian returning home after years of living in Europe. Director Julie Bertucelli, daughter of director Jean-Louis Bertucelli, whose film Since Otar Has Left will be screened in the information section, is also set to attend. A special section about Latin American cinema is planned as well.

In terms of expectations at this year's Cairo Festival, the host hotel will be on the Nile; there will be glittering parties replete with a Nile cruise, belly dancers, a Pyramid back drop and a host of activities in Aida-like pomp. Starred in 1976, the Festival's past presidents were politician and film writer Saad El Din Wahba and actor Hussein Fahmi who brought glamour and individual imprints to the Festival, now continued under Cherif Shoubashy. The Cairo Festival also runs the International Film Festival for Children in March. The two other major Egyptian festivals are Alexandria International Film Festival and Ismailia International Documentary and Short Film Festival in September. Additionally, the CAMAR TV Market is held in July.

"The Cairo Film Festival will be presenting some new films front the Arab world in addition to its European orientation involving Italy, since it is a Mediterranean center," said Cairo Fest programming director Yusuf Rizkallah, former head of Nile TV. One of the highlights of the Cairo Film Festival is the ability to screen Egyptian films by noted directors--both commercially popular romantic comedies and the social dramas that Egyptian directors often portray.

A trend that is prevalent amongst established directors like Mohammed Khan and Khaisry El Basira is the creation of digital films, which were screened last year. The Cairo International Film Festival provides a historical meeting point in the center of the Middle East region, for cultures to converge and exchange.
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Title Annotation:Middle East; Cairo International Film Festival
Author:Fine, Janet
Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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