Rare Short Film Festival brings together promising Arab talents in Alexandria

Egyptian entry “My Naughty Grandpa” won the Golden Mask in the Short Documentary Film Category.
Sunday 16/02/2020
Egyptian actress Salwa Mohamed Ali (C) receives a certificate of recognition  during the opening of the Alexandria Short Film Festival. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)
On the right track. Egyptian actress Salwa Mohamed Ali (C) receives a certificate of recognition during the opening of the Alexandria Short Film Festival. (Hassan Abdel Zaher)

CAIRO - The sixth Alexandria Short Film Festival brought together promising regional film-makers with 65 entries in various categories, turning the event into a fierce contest and learning experience for directors and cinema-makers.

The festival aims to draw attention to the importance of short films, which are not common in the Arab region but this is the only cinema event in Egypt dedicated solely to short films. The number of films in this year’s late-January edition was almost double the previous one.

“This proves that the festival is moving on the right track,” said Marwa Abu Eish, a member of the festival jury. “It is gaining successes year after year.”

Most entries received no financial support or sponsorship from official cultural institutions. This gives the festival a personal aura, which was enhanced by the fact that most of those submitting entries were young film-makers.

Six films from Egypt, two from Saudi Arabia, seven from Lebanon, two from the Palestinian territories, four from Tunisia and one from Syria competed for the top awards.

A joint Tunisian-Libyan production, “Prisoner and Jailer,” which tells the story of two controversial men from Libya, won the Golden Mask in the Short Feature Film Category. Lebanese film “Manara” won the Silver Mask in the category.

Egyptian entry “My Naughty Grandpa” won the Golden Mask in the Short Documentary Film Category.

Short films from the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Algeria and other Arab countries also competed.

Hypatia, a Hellenistic Neoplatonist philosopher, astronomer and mathematician, who lived in Alexandria, then part of the Eastern Roman Empire, was the symbol of the festival.

Some entries participated outside the main contest of the festival, which included workshops, discussions and forums involving cinema specialists from various countries, who exchanged views and expertise on film techniques and methods for securing funding.

Workshops focused on the different stages of making short documentaries and the selection of relevant topics.

“These activities make the festival, especially interesting and unique,” said Egyptian film critic Nader Adli. “They are tailored to the needs of those participating in it.”

The Alexandria Short Film Festival strives to gain publicity and as much popularity as major events such as the Cairo International Film Festival and El Gouna Film Festival. The latter is gaining international reputation and attracting some of the best international cinema talents.

A series of provincial film festivals take place in different Egyptian cities, including a festival in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia.

The Alexandria Short Film Festival is sponsored by the Department of Culture in Alexandria and is free to the public. It drew an unprecedented number of people to screenings this year.

Adli attributed the keenness on the part of viewers to watch the films to the fact that most of the films were relevant to what happens in real life. “The topics of the films are not fictional but copies of real life,” he said.

Some of the short films focus on crafts that are dying in the Arab region. One film told the story of a female bodybuilder who defies widespread social disapproval of that type of sport for women. Another told the story of a lonely man who discovers the world and himself by watching other people from the balcony of his flat.

Short films are cinema productions that tell a story in a condensed manner. The length of the films ranged between 6-30 minutes.

Budding Egyptian cinema director Antonius Basily produced a film about relations between a boy and his father.

Called “Once There Was a Boy,” the film advocates against domestic violence and parents’ abuse of their children. It is a 27-minute work that took Basily eight months to make.

“The festival is a very rich experience for me,” Basily said. “It is a very simple event but one that is full of lessons for young film-makers like me.”

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