Cairo Film Fest Set to Bow With Middle East Premiere of ‘The Father’

The Cairo Film Festival kicks off its 42nd edition Wednesday as a mostly physical event with the Middle East premiere of Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his hit stage play “The Father,” for which co-writer Christopher Hampton and actor Rufus Sewell are expected in attendance.

“I think it’s one of the best films of the year,” fest president Mohamed Hefzy tells Variety. “We felt that the way the subject (dementia) is treated is extremely humane and very cinematic,” he added, noting that “Father” is a great opener since it is “a very accessible film for a broader audience.”

The socially-distanced opening ceremony of the grande dame of the Arab world’s fests will take place in the Cairo Opera House’s open-air theater, which is being called The We Theater, where other expected attendees will include Russian master Alexander Sokurov (“Russian Ark”), who is presiding over this year’s main jury, revered Egyptian screenwriter Wahid Hamid, and local megastar Mona Zaki (“Scheherazade,” “Tell Me a Story”), who are being honored with lifetime achievement awards, as is Hampton.

Hefzy said that due to coronavirus he is expecting roughly half the 450 foreign guests who attended last year’s watershed edition of Cairo to make the trek this year, partly because the lineup has been slimmed down from 150 to 85 films.

That said, strict sanitary measures are in place with free PCR tests provided to all accredited guests, as well as obligations to wear masks,  temperature checks, and disinfecting screening rooms between screenings and talks that have become customary. The Cairo chief also underlined that they are avoiding big parties after incautious gregariousness at Egypt’s El Gouna film fest in October ended up generating the spread of some coronavirus cases, as reported by Variety.

The Cairo competition features a rich carefully concocted mix of titles. Some are international works that recently surfaced on the fest circuit, such as Hungary’s International Oscar candidate “Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time,” Russian drama “Conference,” which recently launched from Venice Days, and Danish thriller “Shorta” that bowed from Venice’s Critics’ Week. Then there are three Egyptian films: “Curfew,” a star-studded drama by well-known helmer Amir Ramses set during Egypt’s 2013 night-time curfew imposed due to political turbulence; “About Her,” a more experimental pic by newcomer Islam El Azzazi set in the 1930s and depicting the bereavement of a woman with a paranormal twist; and female weightlifting doc “Lift Like a Girl,” by Mayye Zayed, which previously went to Toronto and New York. But interestingly, there are also two non-Arabic world premieres unspooling, female first time Chinese filmmaker Cao Jinling’s “Anima” (Mo Er Dao Ga), being sold by Fortissimo Films, and Bulgarian debut “German Lessons,” a drama set in the Sofia suburbs by Pavel G. Vesnakov.

Though the Arabic competition section has suffered particularly due to coronavirus this year, the Cairo Film Connection co-production platform is instead packed with promising new titles from known names such as veteran Egyptian auteur Yousry Nasrallah and Tunisia’s Kaouther Ben Hania, alongside potential discoveries.

The 42nd Cairo film fest will run Dec 2-10.

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