One of the most striking aspects about the ongoing Cairo International Film Festival is the presence of a large number of young people at the screening venues. Unlike many other movie festivals, Cairo encourages participation by non-professionals in an attempt to cultivate a taste and sensibility for meaningful cinema, particularly arthouse fare and Egyptian films.
And as the Artistic Director of the Cairo festival, Youssef Cherif Rizkallah, told this writer over a dinner chat, this is the need of the hour in a country where Hollywood invasion has been mighty. Despite Egypt’s protection policy of not allowing an American movie to come in with more than 10 prints of a film at a time, the local home-grown cinema has not really flourished.
About 150 Hollywood blockbusters arrive in Egypt every year -- in contrast to just about 40 or 50 local movies. There was a time when the annual production of Egyptian films touched 80 or so. There was also a time when the number fell to an alarming low of about 15 a year!
Rizkallah also said that Indian movies were popular in the 1970s and the 1980s, and many of Amitabh Bachchan starrers were huge hits. Earlier, Indian cinema was known through men like Raj Kapoor. But the real Indian wave was in the 1970s and the 1980s, and it appears that the man responsible for pushing this desire among Egyptians was Mr Bachchan.
In a way, one can note a subtle move to popularise not only Indian cinema in Egypt, but also Egyptian productions. There are four Indian films in the festival -- Umrika, Talvar, An Island City and Om Shanti Om. All in the Hindi language, a fact that underlines the need to think of Indian cinema as one that goes beyond Bollywood.
Which festivals like Venice have realised. This year, Vetrimaaran’s superbly powerful Visaaranai (Interrogation) in Tamil played at this festival on the Lido and with resounding success.
Back to Cairo, there are two Egyptian movies in Competition, Born to a Man and The Grand Night. The first talks of the struggle of a young man as he finds a way out of his poverty through boxing. The Grand Night is a cinematic effort to present different characters in the course of religious fairs.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cairo International Film Festival.)