Indies Among The Pyramids: The Cairo Film Festival
by Sandy Mandelberger, International Media Resources
The 20th Cairo International Film Festival, which was held from December
2 to 15, boasted the largest number of American independent films ever
presented in the Arab world. The festival was an opportunity to introduce
some of the most interesting and quirky indie films to what is still a
largely untapped market.
Cairo, the cultural capital of the Arab world, is a dusty, dusky city of
over 11 million people. And while it is quite exotic by any standards,
there is one thing that links it with all other international
capitals.....a love of cinema, an explosion of multiplexes and a
fascination with American cinema. But in the land where Arnold, Sly and
Jean-Claude reign, the surprisingly well-attended sold-out shows
(often in the middle of the work week) at this festival was a testament to
how strong the attraction to American culture is in a society that often
finds itself at odds with American political and social policies.
The festival unfolded in 12 different cinemas around the city. Almost all
screenings of the American independent films were sold out. A main drawing
card of the event is that all films shown in the festival are given a
reprieve from Egypt's usually very tight censorship rules. Sex, dirty words,
excessive violence and even scenes that poke fun at government, religion or
the status quo are routinely deleted from any film that opens commercially in
Egypt. It made me wonder how much of the American indie films could normally
be legally shown in the theaters if all of the above "objectionable points"
While cineplexes are exploding in the Arab world and there is an explosion of
satellite television channels that show almost exclusively American
television series, television movies and major Hollywood films, the market
for independent art films is almost non-existent. Several Arab distributors
who attended the small but effective film market attached to the festival
told me that a growing middle class and university-educated audience is
available for viewing both American and European art films. This audience,
which is mainly reached via the new satellite television and home video,
represents the growth audience for
independent art films. Predictions were given that the next decade will see
new Arab distribution companies handling the international needs of this
mostly foreign-educated elite.
Does the Arab market represent an important area for independent filmmakers? C
urrently, the market is practically non-existent, and tight censorship rules
will play havoc with the majority of independent films. However, as a growth
market for the next century, the Arab world represents a major potential
market for film consumers.
The success of the American program means that the Cairo International Film
Festival will continue to host the most extensive program of American
independent films in the Arab world for years to come.
Among the American indie films featured in the 1997 Festival were
"Bandwagon"(John Schultz), "The Bloody Child" (Nina Menkes), "Blossom Time" (David Orr), "Captive" (Karl Slovin), "Childhood's End" (Jeff Lipsky), "Deep In The Heart" (Stephen Purvis), "The Dinner Party" (Michael Hite), "Dreamland"
(Susi Graf), "Eden" (Howard Goldberg), "Manny And Lo" (Lisa Kreuger), "Mojave Moon"
(Kevin Dowling), "Nick And Jane" (Richard Mauro), "Nothing To Lose" (Eric Bross),
"Scorpion Spring"(Brian Cox), "Size Of Watermelons" (Kari Skoglund), "Sudden Manhattan"
(Adrienne Shelly), "Thicker Than Water" (Anthony Costa), "Til Christmas" (Jon Sherman)
and "Timeless" (Chris Hunt).