"We want to go out of l999 with a smile, so we will celebrate comedy and open with a tribute to comedians throughout the 20th century at the 23rd Cairo International Film Festival, to be held from Nov. 24-Dec. 7," said Hussein Fahmy, president of Cairo Fest, speaking from the Festival's downtown Cairo office in an interview with TBS.
"As we are moving into the 21st century, we want to put away the wars and bombings and remember to laugh." Fahmy combines his Egyptian-internationalized charm as a popular Egyptian actor, a businessman who owns restaurants in Cairo and an international figure last year the UN Goodwill Middle East Ambassador, son of a German mother, and a University of California graduate. After different choices fielded for the Middle East's premiere annual competitive international film festival, Fahmy seems to be taking the best of the legacy of the late Cairo Film Festival President Saaed Eddin Wahba and adding new forms.
The Festival had an active television market attracting Middle East TV participation, but during Fahmy's first tenure, there was faint participation (when its excellent market director Raymond Iskander of Laser TV, one of the leading distributors of TV programming in the Middle East, was not re-appointed) and there was little TV buzz except for technical equipment sales.
Technical equipment, not to compete with the outstanding Cairo Television and Radio Market (CAMAR TV '99), will be instead be the focus of the Film Festival's Market this year (Nov. 23-26), run by the professional management company of VisionTec. In their brochure, they list such items as video technology, audio technology, imaging systems, cinema technology and other equipment, all as "your opportunity to meet the Middle Eastern film industry." Never before at a Cairo Film Festival have television, film, and technology so merged.
"I consider 1998 as a rehearsal. This year should be a real beginning," said Fahmy, who said he equally divides his time between acting in films (currently he is shooting a role as a blind composer for the film "Amber and Colors" by Adel Esser, and a comedy "Men of The World Unite" ready mid-October for the comedy-themed Cairo Fest) and "specific management" for the Festival, utilizing top talent like Mary Gaban, former Hollywood Reporter Cairo bureau chief, and Yousef Sherif, Nilesat TV vice president, as program selectors.
"There will be several new innovations for the Festival, with this much-expanded technical side-bar market, with more than 127 companies participating, more sponsorships, increased international journalist participation and a special forum for Egyptian students to attend films, seminars and events," said Fahmy, his famous blue eyes twinkling in anticipation.
"We have sent invitations to comedians around the world, from Robin Williams and Jack Lemmon to comedians throughout the Middle East. Their pictures, with distinct identifications, is the theme of the poster. Festival selection ends in September and we expect 250-300 films with 62 countries participating."
Last year, British actor John Malkovich headed the jury. According to Fahmy, this year's jury members are yet to be finalized, but some well-known celebrities have been contacted.
The Cairo Film Festival begins one week earlier this year to coincide with the start of Ramadan, and Fahmy said that eventually the Festival will be held in October due to Ramadan's earlier beginnings in coming years.