It's time for the Cairo film feast
By Shaibu Husseini
FILMMAKER and Managing Director of Brickwall Communications, Mahmood Ali-Balogun has been a major part of the Cairo International Film Festival since the 32nd edition of the feast opened on November 18 and will run through 28.
Ali-Balogun who is better known for canning top rate documentaries is not going to be in Cairo because the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC) intends to make the country's presence felt at the festival, but the cultural worker and a string advocate for a virile film industry is going to Cairo in his personal capacity. The director of the Mnet short film A Place Called Home has been invited as a juror for the international competition for digital feature films at the festival. Ali-Balogun will just be the only Nigerian filmmaker on a panel that will be made up of other reputable filmmakers drawn from other film producing nations of the world.
The international competition for digital feature films according to a statement signed by the President of the Cairo film feast Ezzat Abo- Ouf is designed to encourage young talents across the continent to work on the digital field and to take advantage of the dynamic nature of the digital film format. In its third year, entries for the international competition, an initiative of the Egyptian Minister of Culture Mr. Farouk Hosni will be decided by an independent jury which is far removed from jury of the regular 35mm International Competition and the festival international jury. The statement further indicates that there will be two grand awards for the digital competition-the golden award and the silver award. Winner of the golden award will walk out of Cairo with a cash prize of 10,000 USD, which will be shared, equally between the producer and the director while the silver award category will attract a cash prize of 6,000 USD and which again shall be shared equally by the producer and the director.
Mahmood Ali-Balogun expressed delight on the invitation. He described it as not just recognition for him but for motion picture practice in Nigeria. 'It means that our brothers in Africa are beginning to take us seriously' he enthused adding; 'it also means that there is a lot to learn from us. I mean I have never been to Egypt for the festival or on any movie matter and I have never met the organisers. This shows that they have been doing some content analysis on Nollywood and my participation as well as that of Nigeria because I just learnt that the Nigerian Film Corporation will be making Nigeria's presence felt at the festival, will be an opportunity to further educate filmmakers that will be attracted to the festival about the uniqueness and peculiarities of our industry'.
A gala dinner to be held at the famous Mohammed Ali Palace in Cairo and to be hosted by the Egyptian Minister of Culture on November 18 will follow a grand opening ceremony, which will be attended, by all the participating filmmakers and nations. The organisers have also promised participants a swell time in Egypt. Participants will take time out of critiquing, watching films and attending workshop and seminar to undertake a tour of some of Egypt's historical sites. Even Ali-Balogun confirmed that the organisers have informed him well ahead of trips to some of Cairo's many spectacular sights, including the Giza Pyramids, The Khan Khalili bazaar, and the Cairo museum, in addition to a two-day trip to Luxor. 'This is a lesson to all those people organising festivals in Nigeria. They are not thorough at all in their programming. They cram people together under one venue without a chance to savour the sights and sounds of the cities where the festival is taking place. I will document this experience on tape for them to see' he quipped.
But beyond the trips and jury duty, Nigeria will be in focus when discussion will open at the African Cinema Symposium, which will be staged as part of the festival. The symposium will be held on November 20 at the Opera Ballroom of the Sofitel El Gezira Hotel and it will examine Cinemas of Africa... Goodbye Isolation. There will be three major themes that practitioners will dissect at the symposium that will be held under the auspices of the Minister of Culture His Excellency Farouk Hosny. The first will be obstacles facing the diffusion of African Films in the Black Continent. Discussants will examine language and dialect obstacles, domination of American Film allowing a limited opportunity for other productions and insufficient funding and infrastructure at the level of production and distribution. They will also examine miscommunication or lack of dialogue among different parties concerned with cinema in order to cooperate and implement an efficient plan for the screening of films on television here and across the continent. The second theme will take a look at the digital filmmaking revolution as a 'democratic alternative' for a new cinematographic industry. Particularly this theme of the symposium will be devoted to a discussion on South African Cinema and on Nollywood as the acclaimed third biggest producer of films after Bollywood and Hollywood. It is for the reason that Nigeria will be at the Festival. An earlier release from the Nigerian Film Corporation signed by its Head of Public Affairs Brian Etuk had indicated that Nigeria would be attending the 33rd edition of the Cairo International Film festival. Issues pertaining to Nigeria's participation was discussed when the Egyptian Ambassador to Nigeria His Excellency Mr. Sherif Naguib when the Managing Director of the NFC Mr. Afolabi Adesanya paid the Ambassador a visit in his Abuja office. The Ambassador was said to be elated that Nigeria would be participating in the Cairo film festival for the first time in this century. He assured that the Embassy will ensure that Nigeria's participation at the film festival gets the attention it deserves,
noting that Nigeria's participation will not only open a new vista of cultural relationship between the two nations, but would indeed open up the possibility of having study exchange programmes for film students and resources persons of the National Film Institute and some film Institutions in Egypt.
It is not clear as at press time how the NFC intends to exploit the opportunity that the festival presents to position Nigeria as the hub of movie production in the continent when it has no film in and out of competition. Agreed that the corporation will in its usual manner put up a stand at the festival, it needs to do much more than that if only to justify the huge sum spent on attending filmic events abroad. The corporation can lobby to have some of the good seeds of the industry shown out of competition. It is also not too much too to request for a special day for Nigeria at the festival. Such a forum will provide the opportunity to market Nigeria not just as a film-producing nation but also as a nation that is endowed with wonderful sceneries and talents. Chances are that the Nigerian delegation will be peopled mainly by government officials particularly members of the National Assembly. But there has been a repeated outcry from some practitioners that filmmakers be enabled instead to attend these festivals in order to gain the much-needed exposure.