The festival started and so is the insanity. But I have to say, I’m still excited and enjoying the experience. Maybe I got used to the insanity that it doesn’t bother me as much.
For example, on Thursday during the premiere of Ahmed Abdullah’s Heliopolis, the entrance was crazy and there was no sense of organization. We were told that we had to buy tickets to get in, even though we had press passes. Then we discovered that press cards are valid on that night and we didn’t even get the seats assigned to us on the tickets. The cast and crew, who seemed to have trouble getting in as well, felt the need to apologize, repeatedly.
There was no need to do that. I myself have seen worse in previous years. I actually watched a film sitting on the floor of that same theater.
The thing is, while everyone kept commenting on the insanity of that premiere, I had other encounters on that day to leave me smiling. I’m watching great films and keep meeting interesting people. Just before the premiere and at the reception hosted by the Indian ambassador (India is the guest of honor at the fest), I met Vikas Swarup, the author of Q&A, the novel on which Slumdog Millionaire was based, Ahmed Maher, director of the Traveler, Khaled Aboul Naga and veteran Egyptian film distributor Antoine Zeind, among many more.
Yesterday, I went to the Samuel L. Jackson press conference. He was charming and the press conference was surprisingly, mmm… a press conference. He was actually asked about his career, his films and other filmmakers he worked with not just Obama and his impression of Egypt. My conference story will be in the Monday edition of Daily News Egypt. It’ll be available online on Sunday night.
The recurrent problem, however, is that many filmmakers are not told about the screenings of their own films, or are told at the last minute. And I thought we journalists had it bad. It happened three times so far, and Daily News Egypt’s culture editor Joseph Fahim will write all the details soon in the paper.
Our critics are still the same, though. And disorganization is still rife. On Friday, after discovering that the Moroccan movie we got excited to watch had pulled out of the international competition. There was another Italian movie playing instead, Marco Bellocchio’s My Mother’s Smile. After it, actor Neri Maracoré from Thursday’s film Friends at Bar Margherita walked in. He was told that this would be his press conference. It was clear to all of us that, like us, he too was a victim of disorganization. But some didn’t let go.
One critic insisted on discussing My Mother’s Smile with Maracoré. “You look like one of the actors in the film, are you sure you didn’t take part in it?” she told him. I had to interfere. I raised my hand and asked a question, while another audience member tried to knock some sense into said critic.
We did discuss My Mother’s Smile after all, but later in the day after another screening for director Bellocchio. I don’t remember said critic raising any questions about the film.
But what struck me, was my inability to structure a question in Arabic on the spot about deconstruction of religion and faith, the commercialization of religion and atheism. [My Mother’s Smile explores these issues and had drawn its share of criticism when it was released]. The thing is I read and write Arabic and have started my career as an Arabic-language reporter. But after some thinking, I realized that all the conversations and discussions I had about the issue were all in English. They’ve been all healthy debates about faith and religion, but realizing that I’ve never had those debates with Arabic speakers is scary.
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