Independent Egyptian films win awards abroad

Last Sunday was a good day for Egyptian cinema as two low-budget Egyptian movies, "Microphone" and "Hawi" (The Juggler) received prestigious awards at the Carthage Film Festival and Doha Tribeca Film Festival respectively.

"Microphone"–Ahmad Abdallah’s second film to receive international recognition after 2009’s "Heliopolis"–won the feature film Golden Tanit at the 23rd edition of Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia.

“This is a great achievement for Egyptian cinema,” says Egyptian film critic Tarek al-Shenawy. The last Egyptian movie to win the Golden Tanit award was Youssef Chahine’s "Al-Ikhtiyar" (The Choice) in 1970.

"Microphone" follows a young Egyptian on his return home to Alexandria from the US. In Alexandria, he discovers a vibrant underground artistic and music scene from graffiti artists to jazz musicians.

"Microphone" was screened for the first time for an Arab audience in Tunisia and was warmly received by the local audience, says the film’s screenwriter and director Ahmad Abdallah.

"Microphone" is the first feature ever to be entirely shot using the Canon 7D photographic camera. The filmmaker’s choice of  medium stems from his strong belief in low-budget movie production, a global phenomenon, and is not a response to funding constraints on the Egyptian cinematic scene, according to Abdallah.

Egyptian audiences will have a chance to see "Microphone" at December’s Cairo International Film Festival. It will also be screened commercially in the city.

"Hawi," by Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim al-Batout, was awarded the Best Arab Film at the second Doha Tribeca Film Festival. "Hawi" addresses issues of displacement, and comes after al-Batout’s award-winning feature film, "Ein Shams."

"Hawi" is a perfect example of creative collaboration. No one in the cast or crew received payment, but were so inspired by the plot they decided to participate. "Hawi" received the Hubert Bals Post Production Fund at the Rotterdam International Film Festival earlier this year.

Unlike many Egyptian commercial movies, the two films tackle unusual topics and experiment with cinematography techniques, says al-Shenawy. In his opinion, low budget production allows filmmakers to take risks. Commercial cinema has suffered over the past years as filmmakers and production companies submit to the limited visions of Egyptian movie stars.

Regardless of the scene at home, it is mostly Egyptian independent and low budget movies that represent Egyptian cinema in international film festivals, according to Egyptian film critic Ola al-Shafei. In addition to their engaging plots, these movies present a vast array of creative writers, directors and actors. Contrary to common perception, al-Shafei sees an audience for independent cinema in Egypt. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that there is a scarcity of production and distribution companies willing to take the risk on non-mainstream movies.

Perhaps the commercial screening of "Microphone" will be the beginning of a new movement in Egyptian cinema, providing incentive for young filmmakers to experiment.

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