What is a movie festival without a dash of colour and controversy! Sometimes, it is controversy that brightens up colour, and this writer has seen a canvas of controversy pepping up proceedings outside darkened auditoriums. In the early years of Cannes, starlets did the most outrageous things on the beach -- like dropping their bra and rushing into the arms of a hunk of a hero! What a tittle-tattle that caused in a world that was still not out of its conservatism. Later, nobody batted an eyelid when aspiring female actors posed topless on the Cannes beach for lensmen or when bare-chested women played volleyball on the sand.
Again, from the time when Iranian and other directors smuggled their works to festivals in the most ingenious ways with some films travelling in pen-drives buried inside delicious-looking cakes to more recent occasions when helmers banned from making cinema (like Iran’s Jafar Panahi) boldly exhibiting their fare (Taxi in Berlin) -- there has always been such kind of excitement in festivals that caused scandals of a different sort.
At other times, things can really hot up as they did at Busan in 2014, when a huge clash took place between the festival director and the city administration, which wanted a telling documentary -- about a ferry disaster in which 300 people perished -- to sink with the truth. The festival fought back and screened the picture.
Now, it seems to be the turn of the Cairo International Film Festival. Some weeks ago, the team of Tamer El Said’s In the Last Days of the City (which premiered at Berlin last February) launched a campaign after the movie was taken off the festival’s (November 15-24) competition list.
A note from the festival says: “The administration has followed with deep regret the latest developments in the campaign launched by the team of the film, In the Last Days of the City, after its removal from the International Competition.
“We feel that this campaign has gone too far by attacking the festival administration’s artistic choices and by trying to tarnish the reputation of the festival by spreading lies and false insinuations. We removed the movie, because its team did not respect its commitment.”
And what was that? Cairo had specifically asked Said to stop sending his work to other festivals, and he reportedly agreed. But, he is said to have gone back on his word.
Obviously, festivals are keen on exclusivity -- with Cannes, Venice and Berlin being extremely strict about this rule. Others -- like Cairo may insist -- that at least their competing entries are not shown elsewhere, except perhaps in the country where they have been produced.
This writer has not seen the film, but here is what a Variety review from Berlin had to tell us about In the Last Days of the City. “As the title suggests, In the Last Days of the City is an elegy, a melancholic love-hate poem to Cairo and the role of filmmakers in any city in pain. A long-gestating project that was initially shot in 2009, the movie represents a self-reflexive expression, by debuting features helmer Tamer El Said, of profound weight and intricate sadness, grappling with loss in myriad forms through separation, death, politics and ineluctable decay. Largely fiction with nonfiction elements, Last Days… benefits from time: Most instant responses to the Revolution now seem hopelessly dated, but Said’s work, lensed before the uprising, takes full, intelligent advantage of hindsight. It’s a natural fest item, with chances for targeted arthouse play.
“Filmmaker Khalid (Khalid Abdalla) may be the lead role, but the real protag is Cairo itself, specifically Downtown, a district lived on the streets. It’s an area of faded splendour caked with a century of dust and sand, characterized by overwhelming bustle: Its noise and hubbub merge with an unmatchable cafe culture, and its residents hear a siren song in the cacophony. Khalid needs to move apartments, but the number of unsuitable places his real-estate agent (Mohamed Gaber) shows leaves him frustrated, and the timing is lousy since his mother (Zeinab Mostafa) is in the hospital and his love Laila (Laila Samy) is leaving Egypt.”
We will not see this Cairo on the festival screen.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Cairo Film Festival.)