Cannes 2011: Egyptian short films bring Al Jazeera to the Croisette


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There have been omnibus films at festivals before, collections of shorts about an event like Sept. 11 or the darkest days of Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. But those usually come out years after the events that inspired the films, when a country has processed the events as history and audiences can view the movies through a period lens.

Not so for ’18 Days,’ a collection of 10 shorts, told from various perspectives, about the uprising this winter in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. The collection, which played a single engagement at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night, contained many pieces that mixed real-life, digital camera footage with scripted scenes, giving the whole enterprise an immediacy most fact-based films lack. If cable news ever tried to merge with an independent-film workshop, this is what it would look like.


Even before the shorts screened, their selection had generated some controversy -- two of the filmmakers, Marwan Hamed and Sherif Arafa, were said to have worked on pro-Mubarak campaigns in 2005, prompting at least one actor to boycott the screening.

Perhaps because of their quick turnaround, the films themselves were an uneven bunch. (Personal favorites of this viewer included a short about a slouch who is enlisted to serve in Mubarak’s anti-protest goon squad and one about a progressive twentysomething who experiences the revolution through social media.)

But whatever their quality level, the films created a surreal feeling for Cannes, thrusting a venue that’s normally at a certain remove from the outside world into the middle of highly charged, contemporary events. The Egyptian uprising, after all, came to a head just three months ago.

Before the screening began, one of the directors stood at the front of the theater and noted that three months ago ‘had I thought I would have been presenting the world premiere of this film I would have thought myself insane.’ Ditto for festivalgoers watching it.


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-- Steven Zeitchik in Cannes, France