Movies & TV

Cairo fest’s beleaguered artistic director departs

Film critic and programmer Ahmed Shawky. File photo. (Social media)

BEIRUT: The Cairo International Film Festival announced the resignation of its artistic director Ahmed Shawky Wednesday. A respected film critic and programmer, Shawky was recently appointed to the post but had filled the role informally for some time and was already working on the festival’s November 2020 edition.

CIFF’s advisory board accepted his resignation unanimously.

“The festival’s president, film producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy, as well as the members of the advisory board would like to thank Mr. Shawky for his contribution to the festival,” CIFF said in Wednesday’s press release, and “for his work in previous editions.”

In addition to his work with CIFF, Shawky has programmed for the Ismailia International Documentary and Short Film Festival and Luxor’s European and Egyptian Film Festival.

His film writing has appeared in several Egyptian print and online publications since 2009. He’s published five books on Egyptian cinema -- “Conversations with Daoud Abdel Sayed,” “Taboo in Egyptian 80s Generation Cinema,” “Helmy Halim. A Story From Here,” “Conversations with Yousry Nasrallah,” and “Khairy Beshara: A Long Film about Life.”

Shawky’s resignation did not result from critical malfeasance or programming incompetence, but after a well-coordinated Twitter campaign against him. On 6 June, the Twitter storm blew overseas when the Venice film festival’s foreign press list received an email with the subject heading “A homophopic/sexist artistic direktor in the Cairo International Film Festival.”

Depicting themselves as “a group of culture workrs, journlists, fotball fans and critics who will not show our identity fearing for our safety,” the note’s authors demanded that CIFF sack Shawky.

They describe him as “a fascist, pro-torture, pro-killing of peaceful protestors, and who justifies rape, and a sexist [who] cursed the 74 fotball fans who were killed in a stampede in 2012 and justified the rape of the actress by Marlon Brando.” The email attached screenshots of Skawky’s Tweets, providing English-language translations.

Like other social media smear campaigns, this one that compelled Shawky’s resignation mingles falsehoods with accuracy.

“This is obviously a highly organized,” observed a filmmaker, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, “with dozens of Twitter posts repeating exactly the same sentences, arriving at the same time.

“They accuse him of being homophobic,” the filmmaker noted, “which is amusing to me because he’s among the least homophobic people I know. It completely ignores all the inclusive gestures he’s made as a film programmer.”

The filmmaker did note that Shawky has made remarks on social media that were critical of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist fighters in Syria.

“I’m no radical leftist,” a film critic, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Daily Star, “but whenever I talk with Skawky about the Arab Spring revolutions I feel like a radical leftist.”

While he disagreed with Shawky’s political views on and couldn’t fathom his statements on Egyptian football, the critic elaborated, he found him very pleasant and professional in his cinema work.

“He works a lot on himself,” he said. “He’s a good critic and a good programmer... A couple of nights ago [respected filmmaker Yousri] Nasrallah wrote something supporting Shawky’s cinema work. It provoked maybe 300 posts insulting Shawky and Nasrallah both.”

“This stuff about Shawky being misogynist are bull***t,” the critic continued. “He frequently defends women’s rights to dress as they like and has encouraged many women filmmakers.”

The critic said the accusation that Shawky justified Marlon Brando’s “rape of the actress,” stems from an article he wrote defending Bertolucci’s film “Last Tango in Paris,” which some recall for a raunchy rape-like scene performed by Brando and his costar Maria Schneider. After the film’s release, Schneider told the press the scene had been so intense to shoot that she actually felt as if she’d been raped.

“These people criticizing him now, they seem to think Schneider actually was raped.”

Like the filmmaker The Daily Star spoke with before writing this article, the critic believes there’s nothing spontaneous in the outpouring of anti-Shawky hostility on Twitter.

“He’s a big supporter of the Zamalek football squad,” he said. “Six years ago something terrible happened during an Ahli-Zamalek match. I think 70 Ahli supporters were killed. He wrote something about it and the word he used for ‘killing’ is one we use for killing animals.” An English-language report published since this story first went online suggested “cull” as a translation.

“This campaign started the same day that Shawky was appointed the festival’s artistic director. They were able to pull up screen shots from his tweets from six years before.”

The drive to have CIFF’s new artistic director removed from his post was not restricted to rabid football fans. It includes members of Egypt’s film and critical community who are as passionate about cinema as Shawky. Like him, they too hold ardent views on the revolution that ended the Mubarak regime in 2011 -- and its tragic legacy -- vehemently contradictory views. For Shawky’s detractors, these differences are unforgivable.

 

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