The Sharm El-Sheikh Asian Film Festival screened 58 films from 26 Asian countries during its run last week, but despite the quality of many films, the organisers faced criticism by a number of attending journalists and critics for poor organisation.
A lack of attendance by locals and foreigners, the poor quality of cinemas where films were screened, and the absence of any Indian or Russian representation came in for criticism.
Additionally, the makers of the Egyptian documentary film The Crew withdrew from the festival after a screening of their film at the opening ceremony was rescheduled after organisers decided the ceremony would be too long.
The filmmakers later reportedly filed a police complaint against the festival after the film was screened on a subsequent day.
In addition, the House of Setnakht, the Egyptian entry in the festival’s feature film contest, was booed by critics during its screenings who found it to be subpar.
Some of the cast members in the audience also appeared shocked after watching the film for the first time.
The attending media also faced accommodation troubles; journalists were housed 30km away from the main activities, and several journalists went home in protest.
Critic Nader Adly, who attended the festival, told press that he has always supported holding various and different types of festivals in Egypt, and praised the quality of many of the movies.
“Many great things occurred in this edition. For example, I appreciate the honouring of [actors] Lotfy Labib and Hala Sedky. It’s one of this festival’s great moves, which started with Hassan Hosni, to honour real talents in supporting roles,” he said.
“However, I really wanted to see the public attend the festival, and I suggest it be expanded to include African cinema as well, as I really didn’t find a fulfilling representation of Asian cinema in the festival, except for two or three films.”
‘Change is necessary’
On Thursday, the day before the festival closed, the head of the Egyptian NGO which organised the event, Noon Foundation for Culture and Arts, announced that the next edition will see “major changes in visions, targets and the organising team.”
“New policies and strategies will be applied in the next edition to avoid repeating mistakes,” journalist Gamal Zayda, the foundation’s chairman, told press last Thursday at the festival.
In a statement released earlier on Thursday, Zayda had said that the NGO’s board of trustees will meet in Cairo “to evaluate the third edition.”
Zayda said he valued the effort made by the organising team and expressed gratitude for “the great support” of the ministries of culture and tourism, the governor of South Sinai, the Higher Committee for Festivals and the festival’s sponsors, but noted that “change is necessary.”
“We are looking forward to clarifying our objectives for the next edition to avoid the mishaps that occurred in the festival’s current edition, to continue out role in helping deepen Egypt’s cinema and cultural relations with the rest of the world,” Zayda said, adding that the evaluating meeting is a standard procedure.
He praised a number of elements of this year’s festival, including “the critics’ consensus on the quality of films, the high profiles of the jury, successful scheduling, filmmaking workshops’ good output, interaction between local filmmakers and foreign guests and the tendency towards Asian cinema.”
The Noon foundation, co-founded by late filmmaker Mohamed Kamel Kaliouby, has run six different editions of this festival, which has had several different iterations.
Lack of funds to blame
The director of this edition of the festival, Magdi Ahmed Ali, said he was satisfied with the festival’s artistic quality, but his management team apologised repeatedly to attendees about the logistic issues, and made efforts to help solve the problems.
“I am happy with the experience and the cooperation with Noon. The next edition will definitely see changes,” he told reporters, explaining that the reported problems were “only about the logistics” and expressing satisfaction over the programme that was “artistically very successful and unique.”
“A lack of funds is the key reason why these troubles occurred. I want to use this opportunity to urge authorities open more cinemas in Sharm El-Sheikh,” said the filmmaker.
“An evaluation meeting is essential but it must be attended by the full board of trustees and the managing team of the festival,” Ali said.
Noon trustees include directors Magda Wassef and Daoud Abdel Sayed and critics Yousef Sharif Rizkallah and Magda Maurice.
The festival’s artistic director Mohamed Sayed Abdel-Rahim echoed Ali’s satisfaction with the artistic aspects of the festivals, telling press that “festivals are about screening movies, and we made a satisfactory programme.”
“We made a great effort but we don’t have government support unlike the Cairo Film Festival, or generous sponsorship like Gouna,” commented managing director Mostafa El-Kilany, adding that the Noon foundation changes its organising crew for each edition.
Due to lack of funds, the closing ceremony on Friday was held outdoors on a small bridge at the Porto resort, where the winners of the different contests were unveiled.
Rona Azim’s Mother, directed by Jamshid Mahmoudi from Afghanistan, won best feature film, while The Oblivion by Fatemeh Mohammadi from Iran won best short film.
The best actor award was won by Huang Jing-Yi for The Rib (China), best actress by Kim Si-Ah for Miss Baek (South Korea).
The award-winning Chinese director Xie Fei, the third edition’s guest of honour, was head of the festival’s jury.