Cinema festival in Egypt’s Aswan highlights women’s issues
CAIRO - The fourth Aswan International Women’s Film Festival featured the innovative skills of female film-makers in addressing the issues, including inequality, domestic violence and social stigmas, that women face around the world.
“It is a unique cinema event because it sheds light on cinema works by women and about women,” said Sharif Bendari, a member of the festival jury. “The works demonstrated the artistry of their makers and the depth of the problems facing women, which are almost the same everywhere, whether it is in the Arab region or elsewhere.”
A total of 31 films, including two making their world premieres and 18 having their debuts in Africa, were entered in the 6-day festival that ended February 15. The participating films included Academy Award nominees “Honeyland” (Foreign Language Film and Documentary Feature), “The Cave” (Documentary Feature) and “Dcera” (“Daughter”) (Animated Short Film).
The festival was designed to make cinema an empowerment tool for women and a medium to bring awareness to women’s issues and analyse challenges facing them. Some of this year’s entries told the stories of women that cry for attention while others highlighted the society’s cruelness to women.
“Certified Mail” by Egyptian director Hisham Saqr was featured at the festival’s opening February 10. It tells the story of Hala, a mother and wife who works to steer her family towards a safe shore after her husband goes to jail and her father dies. She is a real-life heroine like millions of women, even as the world does not give her credit or recognise her sacrifices.
Saqr said his film conveys a clear message that “it is about time the world paid attention to the sacrifices made by women so that life can go on.”
“I think there is more attention for women in the Arab region now. This attention is manifest in the number of cinema works that specify leading roles for women and also address women’s issues and problems,” Saqr said.
“Aga’s House” won the award for Long Feature Films. A joint Kosovan-Croatian-Albanian-French-production directed by Kosovar Lendita Zeqiraj, the film tells the story of a boy who must learn Serbian to find his missing father.
The Chinese-American documentary film “Confucian Dream” won the Grand Jury Award. The film tells the story of a mother who tries to find an ideal upbringing method for her son.
“The Bombay Rose,” an Indian animated film written, edited, designed and directed by Gitanjali Rao, won the Best Screenplay award.
Among activities on the sidelines of the festival was a workshop that brought together cinema students and researchers with film-makers from around the world. There was also a forum debating themes of various participating films and how those themes threw light on women’s problems in real life.
Azza Kamel, an Egyptian women’s rights advocate who serves as the deputy chairwoman of the festival’s board of trustees, said the discussions “primarily focused on the challenges facing women.”
“We try to invite the attention of film-makers to these challenges and discuss how cinema can contribute to changing realities in the lives of women around the world,” she said.
The selection of Aswan, the southernmost city in Egypt, as the setting for the festival is daring, given the distance — more than 8,000km — separating it from Cairo, where most Egyptian cultural events are concentrated.
However, Aswan is becoming an epicentre of cultural events in Egypt. In 2019, it was declared the Capital of African Youth. Over the past few years, it hosted many conferences, workshops and gatherings.
The Aswan International Women Film Festival this year honoured several international and Egyptian cinema icons, including Spanish actress Victoria Abril and Egyptian actresses Nelly Karim and Ragaa El-Giddawy.
The jury of the festival consisted of international cinema experts, including Romanian producer Alexandru Teodorescu, Philippine director and producer Khavn De La Cruz and Dutch director and screenwriter Mijke de Jong.
The European Union officially sponsored the festival this year, adding to its international scope and inviting attention to it as an event.
“This is one of the few cinema gatherings that dedicate themselves for women, their cinema innovations and problems,” said Egyptian film critic Samir Saeed. “This is why it is an event that never fails to invite the attention of cinema specialists.”