Fiery Palestinian Coming-of-Age Drama ‘Alam’ Wins Top Prize at Cairo Film Festival

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Palestinian filmmaker Firas Khoury’s fiery coming-of-age drama “Alam” (The Flag) took home the Golden Pyramid at the Cairo Intl. Film Festival, which wrapped with a glitzy award ceremony in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday night.

Khoury’s politically charged debut, which world premiered at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, struck a chord with both the international jury, headed by Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase, and moviegoers in Cairo, who also handed “Alam” the audience award. At a rousing Middle East premiere on Nov. 18, moviegoers burst into applause several times during the screening.

Khoury, who addressed the audience at Cairo’s Opera House with a pre-recorded message, was unable to attend the festival. The director, an Israeli citizen traveling on a Palestinian passport, was not granted a visa by Egyptian authorities.

“Alam” follows a Palestinian-Israeli teen who undergoes a political awakening sparked by a pretty, outspoken girl from his high school class, who spurs him to join a group of classmates in a risky flag operation on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day. Lead actor Mahmoud Bakri won a share of top acting honors for his performance, along with Maher Elkheir, the star of Ali Cherri’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight player “The Dam.”

The Silver Pyramid for best director went to Emmanuelle Nicot for “Love According to Dalva,” a powerful drama about a 12-year-old girl who grows up in foster care after being separated from her abusive father. Nicot’s directorial debut continued its winning streak after nabbing the prizes for best cinematography and best directorial debut at the Camerimage Film Festival last week, and scooping a trio of awards following its premiere in the Critics’ Week section at Cannes. French actress Zelda Samson, feted on the Croisette for her first leading role, also won the acting award in Cairo.

The venerable Egyptian festival wrapped a successful 44th edition this week with a new leadership team led by director Amir Ramses, who was formerly artistic director at El Gouna.

Though the rival Egyptian fest scrapped its 2022 edition, the Arab festival circuit has had no shortage of star-studded events this fall, with the recently concluded Marrakech boasting a lineup that included Tilda Swinton, Paolo Sorrentino, Vanessa Kirby, Diane Kruger and Tahar Rahim, while Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival has tapped Oliver Stone to head its main jury next month.

Cairo festival president Hussein Fahmy nevertheless insisted that the grande dame of Arab cinema is still the region’s lodestar. “Competition? Bring it on. We have the infrastructure, the legacy,” Fahmy told Variety on the eve of the closing ceremony. “We are ready to compete with any event, but I would actually like to have more festivals around.” 

Describing Cairo as the “Hollywood of the Middle East,” he added that the festival’s role should be to celebrate Egyptian cinema and provide a platform for emerging local filmmakers. 

Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla certainly didn’t disappoint: The only movie to represent the host nation in Cairo’s main competition, Abdalla’s “19B” won the award for best Arab film from the festival’s competition sections as well as the FIPRESCI Award from the Intl. Association of Film Critics. The film’s cinematographer, Mostafa Elkashef, was also honored with the Henry Barakat Award for best artistic contribution.

Egyptian documentary filmmaker Sherief Elkatsha, meanwhile, won the award for best non-fiction film in the festival’s Horizons of Arab Cinema competition section, while the prize for best Arabic film went to Carlos Chahine’s “Mother Valley.” “Riverbed,” by Bassem Breche, won a special jury award and an acting award for its star, Carole Abboud.

Here’s the complete list of winners:

International Competition

The Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film

“Alam,” by Firas Khoury

The Silver Pyramid, Special Jury Award, for Best Director

“Love According to Dalva,” by Emmanuelle Nicot

The Bronze Pyramid Award for Best First or Second Work

“Bread and Salt,” by Damian Kocur

Naguib Mahfouz Award for Best Screenplay

“A Man,” by Kei Ishikawa

Best Actor Award

Maher Elkheir (“The Dam”)
Mahmoud Bakri (“Alam”)

Best Actress Award

Zelda Samson (“Love According to Dalva”)

Henry Barakat Award for Best Artistic Contribution

Mostafa Elkashef (“19B”)

The Horizons of Arab Cinema Competition

Saad Eldin Wahba Award for Best Arabic Film

“Mother Valley,” by Carlos Chahine

Salah Abu Seif Award the Special Jury Award

“Riverbed,” by Bassem Breche

Best Non-Fiction Film Award

“Far From the Nile,” by Sherief Elkatsha

Best Acting Performance Award

Carole Abboud (“Riverbed”)

Special Mentions

“I’m Coming Home,” by Yassine Redissi
Lyna Khoudri (“Houria”)

International Critics’ Week Competition Awards

Shadi Abdel Salam Award for Best Film

“Pamfir,” by Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk

Fathy Farag Award for Best Artistic Contribution

“Joyland,” by Saim Sadiq

Special Mention

“Victim,” by Michal Blasko

Short Film Competition

Youssef Chahine Award for Best Short Film

“Rosemary A.D. (After Dad),” by Ethan Bakhret

The Special Jury Award

“My Girlfriend,” by Kawthar Younis

Special Mention

“One Fucking Wish,” by Piotr Jasiński

Best Arab Film Award

Best Arab Film

“19B,” by Ahmad Abdalla 

Special Mention

“Riverbed,” by Bassem Breche

The International Federation of Film Critics

FIPRESCI Award

“19B,” by Ahmad Abdalla 

Audience Award

“Alam,” by Firas Khoury

Marta Balaga contributed to this report.