Six Egyptian Filmmakers That Have Made It To Cannes

By Mervat Mohsen

For seven consecutive years, Egyptian directors have been nominated at the Cannes Film Festival. Amidst the growing status of the event, founded in 1946, the latter re-opens with a splash to celebrities, marking its 75th edition on May 17th.   

Cannes’ annual event ranks among the big five international film festivals. The others being the Venice Film Festival in Italy, the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany, the Toronto International Film Festival in Canada and the Sundance Film Festival in the United States. At one point, Egypt’s name in the film industry was synonymous with big-eyed actor Omar Sherif since the sixties and well into his old age in the aughts. Today the country boasts a crème de la crème of young male and female artists who are taking the international audience by storm with in-depth stories, biting, real, funny or tragic. 

Six Egyptian directors have impressed the film community at Cannes. Some have moved on to be among the esteemed jury selection and others went on to make more movies and win more accolades. Here is a quick review of the achievements of these incredible, inspiring creatives. 

Boy From HeavenTarik Saleh (2022)

Born to a Swedish mother and an Egyptian father, the television producer, animator, and film director, Tarik Saleh’s film “Boy From Heaven” (2022) is competing for the Palme d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Festival. The official selection for the 75th edition of the Cannes Festival has been announced on April 14th.  

The film is set at an Egyptian university renowned for its Islamic teaching. The story sheds light on contemporary Egyptian life and culture. On the first day of classes, a leading Imam collapses in front of his students and a power struggle erupts. The battle for sway then and there is not on religious grounds but for control over adoptive ideologies.   

The film premieres this month at the Cannes film festival and is expected to generate much discussion and conversation.

FeathersOmar El Zohairy (2021)

Director Omar El Zohairy made his Cannes debut last year with “Feathers” which ended up winning the Grand Prize at Cannes’ International Critics Week. The surreal film follows a mother trapped in a cyclical mundane life. But at her son’s fourth birthday party, her domineering husband takes part in a magic trick that transforms him into a chicken. The mother struggles to reverse the magic while scratching a living for the family. The storyline is poignant with its portrayal of common hardships facing many Egyptian families. 

Zohairy’s absurdist drama has turned heads upon receiving the top prize as an Egyptian feature film in the history of the festival.   

SouadAyten Amin (2020)

A 12-year-old girl is searching for answers after her sister Souad commits suicide in a village in Zagazig. “Souad” probes social problems and religious constraints amidst an open social media platform with its good and the ugly. The movie explores weak societal traits that can be detrimental to wellness. It is a critique of social media which can open hell-bound gates due to misinformation or fake news. Souad was selected for display at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. 

Striding on solid feet, Ayten Amin has surely empowered women in the filmmaking business; tackling topics with finesse, honesty and paving the way for Egyptian directors among international filmmakers. To top it all off, “Souad” has made the cut for The Guardian’s 50 Best films of 2021 in the United Kingdom.  

I’m Afraid To Forget Your Face Sameh Alaa (2020)

Sameh Alaa’s film won major acclaim in the short film Palme d’Or category at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. In an obvious nod to Alaa at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, the young director has been selected among the six jury members at the cinéfondation. The latter which has been created with the backing of the Cannes Festival is founded to support up-and-coming filmmakers.   

The story of the short film tracks Adam who has been estranged for months but has decided to do whatever it takes to be reunited with his loved ones. The lead character will journey through rough waters to catch up with those left behind. What makes this film a truly unforgettable standout is that Alaa has told Adam’s narrative through personalized Egyptian experiences.

Yomeddine Abu Bakr “A.B.” Shawky (2018)

The famous film, “Yomeddine” follows the journey of two outcasts who move out of their leper colony. Once out, they discover the ruthlessness of the world around them as they search for residual family members. 

The film was nominated for the 2018 Palme d’Or, the Grand Prix, Best Actor and Best Actress awards. 

Egyptian-Austrian director Abu Bakr Shawky has both written and directed “Yomeddine” which has been described under the genres of adventure, coming of age, dramedy and a road movie. Shawky has spoken to reporters about a renaissance in the movie industry in his native country which heralds more filmmakers commanding respect and recognition for their artistry among peers. 

Clash – Mohamed Diab  (2016)

Another nominated director, Mohamed Diab, has won acclaim with his 2016 movie “Eshtebak” (clash). The plot details the rise of a political party in 2013 and zooms in on the diversity of people rallying against it. With ingenuity, Diab investigates the impossible juxtaposition of protesting people from different backgrounds and yet have been forced to blend in to reach common goals. “Eshtebak” (Clash) has been screened in the category ‘Un Certain Regard’ (A Certain Glance) which offers a bird’s eye view of unusual storylines. 

In a matter of years, a handful of resilient Egyptian directors have been recognized at Cannes Film Festival. Their artistic statements have been delivered at the celebrated event, based on an up-close and personal assessment of social issues.

WE SAID THIS: Egyptian directors are making us proud every day with their creativity, tenacity, and anything is possible attitude.