All the cameras pointed to the Cairo Opera House last night November 20 as the 41st edition of the Cairo International Film Festival officially began with a star-studded red carpet premiere and an awards ceremony honoring influential artists in the cinema industry.
This year, the region’s oldest and largest annual film festival is committed to empowering women and increasing transparency about issues of gender disparity in the Middle Eastern film industry, becoming the first Arab film festival to sign the 5050×2020 gender equality pledge.
Vogue Arabia talked to some of the biggest female names in Arab cinema—including many featured in an exclusive video created in collaboration with CIFF—about women’s current and future roles in cinema, what they’re most excited to see at the festival and, of course, the Arab designers they’re wearing.
Looking elegant in an off-shoulder cream dress by Dubai-based Egyptian designer Marmar Halim, Egyptian-Tunisian actor Hend Sabri often wears Arab designers to her red carpet affairs. “I’ve always supported them and the whole world now likes Arab designers,” said Sabri. “Arab designers are worn everywhere from Cairo to Hollywood to Bollywood and I’m very proud of that and I’ll always support Arab designers—especially girl Arab designers.” Not only a supporter of women in the fashion industry but also in film, Sabri is “pro-women filmmakers” and is excited to work with many emerging stars such as the director of her previous film, Hinde Boujemaa, in addition to those the world doesn’t yet know about.
Another avid supporter of local designers and one of the stars of Vogue Arabia’s #BuyArabDesigners campaign, Egyptian actor Amina Khalil is “proud” to don a glimmering black-and-gold gown by Lebanese designer Thym and is on the lookout for not only the chance to watch one film at the festival everyday but also the progress women in the field are continuously making to reach success. “I think that every day there is a stronger step taken towards putting women exactly where they should be in Arab cinema: All the way up top,” said Khalil.
While Egyptian actor Tara Emad claims “it really takes a good relationship to build an amazing dress,” we tend to agree if the final outcome is the pastel Deena Shaben design Emad showed off on the carpet. Although she acknowledges the many obstacles women have to face to achieve “equal pay, equal rights, equal everything,” she also voices the important role women themselves have to play in the fight for equality. “It’s just something that we constantly have to fight for and unless we don’t fight for it, it’s never going to happen,” said Emad. “So we have to speak up, raise our hand and be a part of a movement that says we’re all equal humans.”
Not only did Egyptian actors Salma Abu Deif and Nour both wear Lebanese designers for the festival’s opening and hope to work with Oscar-nominated Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, but they also expressed their wish to witness more women in other roles within the Arab film industry. “We have a lot as actors, but we need more female producers and directors and moviemakers,” said Abu Deif in a sparkling, skin-tight black dress by Jean-Louis Sabaji, while Nour, dressed in a strapless Ali Younes gown paired with matching magenta jewels, hopes to see more “OPs, producers, and scriptwriters.”
Touting a sequined black design from local label Temraza, Egyptian actor Hala Shiha may be most excited for the opening screening and film festivals overall because “they introduce different kinds of movies and show different kinds of experiences, different kinds of mentalities from the whole world,” she also highlights her wish for women to become the “top” of the industry one day. With so many celebrated female stars walking the carpet, directing award-winning entries, and fighting for their voices to be heard as equally as their male counterparts, that “one day” may come sooner rather than later.
As the only internationally accredited film festival in the Middle East and Africa, the CIFF has a longstanding legacy of bridging the Arab cinematic world with the global industry through critically acclaimed film premieres, participating renowned talent, and inspiring discussions.
Opening the festival was the Middle East debut of legendary director Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” starring Academy Award-winning actors Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in their fourth collaboration on the big screen. Hosted by Egyptian actors Khaled el Sawy, Dina el Sherbiny, and Ahmed Dawoud, the opening ceremony honored fellow Egyptian star Menna Shalaby with the Faten Hamama Excellence Award as well as British director Terry Gilliam with a Lifetime Achievement Award for their cinematic successes.
“We have a great competition, a great lineup this year,” said CIFF President Mohamed Hefzy on the red carpet. Not only will there be industry sessions and an entire competition dedicated to virtual reality films, but also an exhibition sharing the rich history of Cairo and its relation to cinema, continued Hefzy.
While the festival is well underway and will continue to fill the streets of Cairo for the next nine days, scroll through the gallery above for a closer look at the stunning local looks from the strong female stars walking this year’s red carpet.