CAIRO: Always under heavy criticism, the Cairo International Film Festival isn’t an easy task to handle and in the past three months, newly appointed President Ezzat Abu Ouf has been facing the heat.
Since previous President Sherif El-Shobashi’s sudden resignation, Abu Ouf has been appearing on TV gracefully responding to mounting criticism, diplomatically welcoming advice and correcting misinterpreted statements.
In the opening press conference of the festival, his announcement that a new symbol, the key of life, would be added to the awards was misreported. In a later TV interview he had to explain that the new symbol was an addition and not the replacement for the 15-year old Golden Pyramid Award.
Assigning promotional film to jury members was not well received by the critics. They felt he had taken a short cut by recruiting Enas El-Degheidy, a director he had recently worked with. Consequently, he found himself defending his decisions on national TV.
Although he admits there is a long way to go to restore the festival’s allure, he told The Daily Star Egypt that most of the criticism he has been receiving is unsound.
“Criticism is expected, it has been happening for 30 years and I think it will continue as long as the festival continues, Abu Ouf said.
“You must wait until the festival takes place and then you start criticizing, he added. “Some started attacking me before I even got the appointment.
But as he has been responding to criticism, Abu Ouf has also been busying himself with the event’s preparation phase.
As the reels of the featured films were arriving to the festival office, Abu Ouf and other senior officials were moving around finalizing the different aspects of the festival.
As he sat down for the interview, interrupted repeatedly by festival staff asking for his opinion or signature, he stressed organization. He considers it the festival’s greatest obstacle and the only way to attain success.
“It s a huge event and it has to be organized to the extreme, he said. “But thank God so far, it has been very very good.
Aside from organization, Abu Ouf has other issues on his agenda, mainly aiming to build the credibility of the festival. Inviting more foreign media is one task that Abu Ouf takes seriously.
“The name is Cairo International [with emphasis on the word international] Film Festival, not the Cairo national film festival, he added.
Abu Ouf confessed though on a TV show that he still can’t find a real solution to the timing of the festival, which takes place after all the major movies have been screened earlier in other prominent festivals like Cannes, Berlin and Venice. “We end up receiving the leftovers from major production companies and the other festivals, he said.
To overcome this serious drawback, the festival this year has witnessed several expansions in the festival’s sections to give room for the participation of more movies, or “more flexibility as he describes it.
The addition of special competitions for Arab films and digital cinema and re-launching the film market aims at increasing the festival’s attractions and building its credibility.
This also includes making the festival self-sufficient in terms of finance. Currently, the festival operates on a LE 6 million budget provided by the Ministry of Culture. The private sector has contributed to the festival by providing services in exchange for publicity.
Abu Ouf admits this is a goal that won’t be reached during this round, but he hopes the film market and a new policy of promoting and selling tickets to movie theaters displaying festival films would be a step in that direction.