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How the Cairo International Film Festival is Putting Women in the Spotlight

Dorra Zarrouk attends the 40th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival.

In line with all the attention paid this year to gender equality in the movie industry, the news out of the 40th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) this week is encouraging. Out of more than 160 films being screened during the 10-day event, 15% of them are directed by women. Though the number may not seem that big, it is not a small percentage when you compare it to, for instance, the most recent Cannes Film Festival where only three out of the 17 films in the main competition were directed by females (In 2005, 2010, and 2012, there were no female directors included at all). Meanwhile, at the Venice Film Festival, there was only one film by a female director in the official competition with 19 male-directed films.

What’s more, this year’s edition of CIFF boasts a special section dedicated entirely to films directed by Arab women in an effort to shine a light on female creatives from the region. The eight Arab female directors featured include Haifaa Al-Mansour from Saudi Arabia, Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania , Nujoom Alghanem from the UAE, Algeria’s Sofia Djama, alongside Hala Khalil and Hala Lotfy from Egypt. Palestinian filmmakers Annemarie Jacir and Mai Masri will also be celebrated in the empowering section. A majority of the films featured in the Arab Female Directors section have already received international awards, including Djama’s The Blessed, a 2017 drama that examines the Algerian civil war, which clinched three awards at last year’s Venice International Film Festival.

Not only is Africa’s longest-running film festival shining a light on Arab woman filmmakers, but it is also recognizing woman directors from all parts of the world in its International Competition. Out of the 16 films in the main competition, women directed seven. The female-directed films in the section include Birds of Passage, co-directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, Valeria Golino’s Euphoria, One Day by Zsófia Szilágyi, the Tonia Mishiali-directed Pause, and The Third Wife by Ash Mayfair. Mamang by Denise O’Hara and Darya Zhuk’s Crystal Swan are also competing for awards.

Nor is this the first time that CIFF focuses on uplifting women; Last year, the film festival hosted a seminar on fighting violence against females. We can’t wait to see what the festival has in store for 2019.

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