“We need people who take risks”: Reem Allam, head of industry in Cairo, on supporting brave, cross-border Arab filmmakers – Diversity | Episode Movies

The fifth edition of the industry arm of the Cairo Film Festival, the Cairo Industry Days, will seek to further cement its growing reputation as one of the premier industry platforms of the Arab film world when held from 17-22 November.

Initiated by former Festival President Mohamed Hefzy, the Egyptian producer who resigned from his post earlier this year, the event has quickly established itself as a key gathering place alongside the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshops and the Red Sea Film Festival’s Souk , connecting Arab and international filmmakers.

“It’s both challenging and exciting,” said newly appointed industry director Reem Allam of taking up the post alongside new festival director Amir Ramses and new Cairo Film Connection manager Lynda Belkhiria. “We are not bound by traditional ways of doing things. There is a certain freedom in that.”

This year’s event features a diverse program of masterclasses, talks, workshops and panel discussions with award-winning filmmakers and industry experts from around the world. The Cairo Film Connection co-production market is also running, presenting 15 projects from 10 countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

Highlights include masterclasses with Hungarian director Béla Tarr, French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz and Japanese director Naomi Kawase, who will chair the international competition jury; and talks with Egyptian film star Lebleba, who will receive the Golden Pyramid Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival, and Egyptian filmmaker Kamla Abu Zekry, who will receive the Faten Hamama Excellence Award.

Alongside these talks, the festival has expanded its workshop program for Egyptian filmmakers, offering practical tools to the local industry that delve deeper into the craft than the public sessions. “We want Industry Days to be not just a place where young filmmakers can listen to an inspiring two-hour talk, but actually a place to develop their skills,” said Allam.

The multi-day workshops include an in-depth, five-day session with American cinematographer Irvin Liu focusing on the art and craft of storytelling, and a ten-day workshop led by Tarr. The director will offer one-on-one tutoring to 10 aspiring Egyptian filmmakers, who will use the course to develop and shoot a scene under the tutelage of the Hungarian screen legend. “It’s another level of opportunity for filmmakers to develop, develop their skills and find a cinematic voice and be inspired by alternative ways of filmmaking,” Allam said.

Another industry session will look at the growing shift towards green film production through a distinctly regional lens, with several filmmakers speaking alongside Bassam Alasad, founder of Jordan’s Greener Screen Initiative. The panel will examine how film productions in the Middle East and North Africa can be more environmentally friendly and adopt sustainable practices. Speaking about Greener Screen, Allam noted that it is “inspirational to see an Arab initiative encouraging Arab producers to be greener”.

Meanwhile, the Cairo Industry Days will shine a spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s growing film industry, which has been boosted by a range of public and private investments. “It’s a booming market,” Allam said, citing the Red Sea Film Festival’s $14 million fund for projects by Arab and African directors as an example of how the kingdom has become a driving force for production not only in the host country, but across the country has become region. The panel in Cairo will explore ways that “we can all benefit from as an Arab market,” she added.

It has been a strong year for Arab cinema, with filmmakers from the region claiming coveted spots at high-profile festivals such as Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Perhaps as important as the international limelight is the growing number of Arab films that deal with taboo subjects.

Maryam Touzani’s The Blue Caftan, about a closet tailor, is an example of how Arab filmmakers deal with taboo subjects.

For example, “The Blue Caftan” by Moroccan director and writer Maryam Touzani, which won the FIPRESCI prize at Cannes, follows a locked tailor in Casablanca’s medina. Algerian director Mounia Meddour’s uplifting drama Houria (pictured above), which premieres in Cairo, Middle East, is the story of a gifted dancer who dreams of joining the Algerian National Ballet until a violent attack shatters that dream – and offers her an unexpected way to rebuild her life.

These are precisely the daring stories from Arab filmmakers who want to support the Cairo Industry Days. “We need people to take risks,” Allam said. “I really hope we continue to push boundaries.”

The Cairo Intl. The film festival takes place from November 13th to 22nd.

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