Four years after raking the Cairo International Film Festival’s top prize for his wartime drama “Mother of Mine, Finnish filmmaker Klaus Härö earned Friday his second Golden Pyramid for his fourth feature “Letters to Father Jacob.
As the fest’s 33rd edition came to a close, Egyptian actor Fathy Abdel Wahab made headlines for his Best Actor win which he dedicated to the Egyptian national football team.
Abdel Wahab’s win was one of the few cheerful notes in an evening overshadowed by widespread disgruntlement over the Algerian assault on Egyptian football fans in last Wednesday’s World Cup qualifying match in Khartoum.
The widely acclaimed “Father Jacob – Finland’s official submission to the 82nd Academy Award’s Best Foreign Language in 2010 – centers on a blind pastor and a pardoned murderer whom he hires to assist in answering letters of people seeking his help. The film also won the Best Screenplay award.
In a closing ceremony marred with the usual lack of organization and a peculiar dearth of speeches from non-Egyptian winners, the national pride sentiment reigned over the evening. Egyptian artists expressed their anger over the Khartoum events in the red carpet interviews. A protest scheduled to have taken place before the closing ceremony was cancelled.
The opening speech by festival president Ezzat Abou Ouf, which was received by thunderous applause and a standing ovation, encapsulated that sentiment.
“I’d like to say the following words on behalf of myself and the Cairo International Film Festival crew, Abou Ouf said. “Egypt, our beloved nation, your genuine motherly spirit has always been full of generosity, kindness, compassion, pride, creativity and beauty. Your spirit, and your people, will always keep you the mother of the world. Long live Egypt.
Accepting his Best Actor award for Magdy Ahmed Ali’s “Nile Birds that evening, Abdel Wahab said: “I’d like to thank the jury, I’d like to thank the Cairo Festival’s administration. I’d like to thank our producer, Issad Younis and Arabeya Company. I’d like to thank my colleagues, whom I was proud to have worked with. And finally, I’d like to thank Magdy Ahmed Ali. I’m happy that he entrusted me with an important novel like Ibrahim Aslan’s ‘Nile Birds.’
“And since I consider this prize one of the most important prizes that I’ve received because it’s given by our Cairo Film Festival, I’d like to dedicate it to our Egyptian national team, and to all the Egyptian spectators who travelled to Sudan. Welcome back.
The other big winner of the night was Mona Achache’s French smash “Le hérisson (The Hedgehog), scooping three awards: the Silver Pyramid award, Best Direction and the International Critics prize (FIPRESCI).
Based on Muriel Barbery’s bestselling 2006 novel “L’élégance du hérisson, Achache’s bittersweet film tells the story of an 11-year-old girl planning to end her life on her 12th birthday and the relationship she forges with the lonely middle-aged janitor of her building and a widowed Japanese tenant.
Cherien Dabis’s debut hit feature “Amreeka dominated the Arab Film Competition, winning the awards for Best Arabic Film and Best Screenplay, each worth LE 100,000. Produced by Showtime Arabia, the film revolves around a Palestinian immigrant family and the financial challenges and the prejudices they face in a post-9/11 Illinois.
The jury gave a special mention to Egyptian filmmaker Ahmad Abdalla’s indie debut feature “Heliopolis along with Hatem Ali’s Syrian prison drama “The Long Night.
“I’d like to thank the festival and the jury for the special mention, said “Heliopolis producer Sherif Mandour. “I’d like to remind Egyptian, Arab and foreign artists in attendance that love is the message of art. And this is the director’s message.
Speaking on behalf of Abdalla, who was away in Greece for the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the film’s star Khaled Abol Naga said, “Ahmad Abdalla would like to thank all the people who participated in making this film. This film is a labor of love for the cast and crew who contributed to the production of this film in one way or another. I’m proud to have been part of this team.
Indian actor Subrat Dutta shared the Best Actor prize with Abdel Wahab for his role as a traumatized terrorist attack victim in Jai Tank’s “Madholal Keep Walking. Polish actress Karolina Piechota went home with the Best Actress award for her performance as a free-spirited young woman residing in a small industrial town in Maciej Pieprzyca’s “The Splinters.
Argentinean director Gonzalo Calzada received the best first or second work of a director award for “Luisa while the Best Artistic Contribution award went to Russian filmmaker Vera Glagoleva for “One War.
In the Digital Competition, the Golden award was given to Alvin B. Yapan for “The Rapture of Fe (Philippines) while the Silver prize went to Ahmet Zirek’s “Exile in France (France) and Krishnan Seshardi Gomatam’s “First Time (India).
Three Indian stars received the lifetime achievement award: “Slumdog Millionaire star Irfan Khan, “Fashion director Madhur Bhandarkar and former Miss India Celina Jaitley.
The ceremony closed with a screening of Mira Nair’s critical and commercial flop “Amelia starring Hillary Swank and Richard Gere.