Women Dominate the 11th Edition of the Luxor African Film Festival
The Luxor African Film Festival wrapped up its 11th week-long session on Thursday evening, March 10, 2022, and African filmmakers were embraced by the charming Egyptian city of Luxor, the largest open museum in the world.
In 11 editions the festival has made its mark on the map of prominent African film gatherings and counted on the support of distinct and eager audiences every year. The interest in the festival has grown in light of global interest in African cinema and its value in an industry that plays a major role in the economies of the continent. Moreover, the festival developed a global presence among international festivals that often outweighs diplomatic efforts in highlighting concerns and problems of African countries.
The work Communion, from Tunisia, won the best feature award. Najib Belkadhi, the director, stars in the movie alongside Tunisian star Soheir Ben Amara. The story looks closely at the psychological changes felt by a couple trying to adapt to life during the coronavirus pandemic when everything around is changed.
The Jury Award went to the Somali film The Gravedigger’s Wife, by Khader Idros. It’s his very first feature. In a wonderful cinematic language, it deals with the sweet love story of a married couple struggling with death, each in their own way. The husband works as a gravedigger but, despite his familiarity with the world of death and its smell, he refuses to have his wife succumb to what seems inevitable. He struggles to save her until he wins. The film also won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award.
This latest edition, which overlapped with the International Women’s Day on March 8, saw the festival adding a new award for best feature on women’s issues. The award went to a short titled Batool, by Muhammad Zahran. The story follows a girl who faces a heavy legacy of oppression meted out by society on those subjected to harassment or rape. The victim has to bear the blame or keep silent for fear of shame and scandal. She is punished, instead of the perpetrator. In the end, the girl undergoes a kind of catharsis by confrontation and, eventually, reconciles with herself. She turns her back on the past and moves forward with her head held high.
The festival celebrated the African women who dominated its programs, competitions, and jury committees. It honored young director Apolline Traore, from Burkina Faso. Traore, who also participated as a jury member in the feature film competition, had its distinguished work Desrances screened at the festival. It stars American actor Jimmy Jean Louis (who was scheduled to participate in the official competition jury but was forced to cancel due to his son’s sudden illness).
The festival launched the Factory project to support African female filmmakers. The initiative will allow them to complete their first or second documentaries, knowing the harsh conditions women face for a place on the film production map.
In most cases, women are underrepresented in the continent’s film production. Their presence does not exceed 10% in Central and Western African countries. In better cases, the percentage of women in African cinema reaches 30% – mostly in North and Southern Africa. This was confirmed by the UNESCO report issued in October 2021, entitled “The African Film Industry: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities for Growth”. The report cites the absence of women from films, along with their issues and problems. The document stressed some of the problems and obstacles faced by the African film industry, such as funding and development. Lack of a production policy and clear laws, or the outright inexistence of laws, are some of the obstacles faced by filmmakers.
The Factory supports ten projects for long documentaries with a production cost of less than 313,000 US dollars, including four films by Egyptian women directors. One of them is called Fragile, directed by Sally Abu Basha. It shows us two teenagers who dream of making a short film even though they cannot perform simple tasks due to a rare genetic disease. Be it as it may, they want to lead a normal life like any human being. Will their dream come true? In another film, Rhythms of Life, by Sabreen Al-Hosami, we learn the history of Egyptian female musicians through two parallel narratives. The first narrative is about Hathor, the goddess of motherhood and music in the ancient Egyptian civilization; the second is about the life of a contemporary woman. In Looking Spider-Man, an experimental documentary by Nadia Ghanem, we see a woman’s attempt to understand the conflicting situations surrounding her. The fourth film is 50 Meters, by Yumna Khattab, in which she tries to understand her father and redefine her relationship with him.
The project also includes 27-37, from Syrian director Nour Halloum. She records her feelings in what she calls “exile” and traces the ten years she spent in Egypt while her 4 brothers live in different Arab countries due to deteriorating conditions experienced in their homeland. Director Yara, from Jordan, is busy working on Harvest Moon, about a Jordanian engineer who leaves New York to return to his country to plant wheat and try to understand the existential relationship between him and that particular grain. From Uganda, Nikesi Jamu is preparing Are You Wearing You? about a Ugandan fashion designer who closes his company in Berlin and returns to his hometown to introduce a new cotton brand, only to face stiff bureaucracy. From Nigeria, Judith Udo is working on the project Magic Hands, about Nigerian women famous for their talent as midwives. They massage the pregnant woman’s uterus with a technique inherited from their grandmothers, which makes pregnancy more comfortable and easier. And, from Algeria, Laila Bedjaoui was preparing for the film Fi Khater Boualem, about a storekeeper who faces economic adversity while clinging to his dreams. The Factory is also supporting a South African film titled I Am a Jew. It deals with identity and self-discovery through the experience of its Jewish director, Pearl Mundi, as she tries to expose misconceptions about African Jews. LAFF is organized by the Independent Shabab Foundation, chaired by scriptwriter Sayed Fouad and directed by Azza Elhosseiny.