Mexican Director Joaquin del Paso’s ‘The Hole in the Fence’ Scores Cairo Film Festival’s Golden Pyramid

Mexican director Joaquin del Paso’s coming-of-age drama “The Hole in the Fence,” set in an all-male religious camp in rural Mexico, scored the Cairo Film Festival’s top prize, the Golden Pyramid, on Sunday capping a vibrant 43rd edition of the preeminent Arab event, which was held in person despite the impending threat of the coronavirus Omicron variant.

Though there were some last minute cancellations, most international attendees made the trek to Cairo undeterred, including jury president Emir Kusturica, U.S. producer Lawrence Bender and Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux – dubbed the “King of the Croisette” by the master of ceremonies. The latter two were honored with lifetime achievement awards during the glitzy closing ceremony in Cairo’s opera house.

“Hole in the Fence,” which world premiered in Venice, is Del Paso’s second work after “Panamerican Machinery,” which had made a splash after launching from Berlin in 2016. “Hole” explores the experience of a group of boys from a prestigious private school gathered at a summer school camp where they receive physical, moral and religious training. The discovery of a hole in the perimeter fence prompts a chain of increasingly disturbing events.

Italian films landed two top Cairo prizes with Laura Samani’s “Small Body,” a 19th century-set drama involving female empowerment, Catholic culture and gender fluidity, taking the Silver Pyramid for best director, and Swami Rotolo scoring the best actress prize for her powerful performance in Jonas Carpignano’s “A Chiara,” as a young woman who gradually comes to discover that her close-knit family has ties to organized crime.

The best actor award went to Egyptian thesp actor Muhammad Mamdouh for his central role in Nadine Khan’s sophomore drama “Abu Saddam” in which he plays a veteran truck driver on a tough transport mission that gets particularly complicated.

Syrian director Ameer Fakher Eldin’s “The Stranger,” about a doctor going through an existential crisis in the occupied Golan Heights, took the prize for Arab film across all sections. Pic is Palestine’s international Oscar entry.

“Memory Box,” by Lebanese duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, who used journals and audio recordings they made while growing up in Beirut of the 1980s to make this experimental work about memory and resistance, won the prize for best film in the Arab cinema competition.

All told the Nov. 26-Dec. 5 event, which is the only fest in the Arab world to be accorded category “A” status by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations in Paris (FIAPF), pulled off a memorable feat in the face of various disruptive factors. Besides COVID, this also included stepped up competition on the Arab circuit with the arrival of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea fest, which segues Cairo with its first edition on Monday, also as an in-person event.

“First of all I’m really happy that we haven’t heard of any [COVID] cases so far,” said Cairo fest president Mohamed Hefzy. “And I hope it continues like that after the closing.”

“Obviously we continue to be very cautious. I would love to say that this is the last edition where we have to worry about COVID, but I have to be realistic: who knows what’s going to happen,” he added.

Hefzy noted that there were some industry guests who cancelled and a few filmmakers got stuck in their countries. “It was complicated,” he pointed out. “But we managed to cope with it and survive.”

Cairo Film Festival 2021 winners

International Competition

Golden Pyramid for Best Film
“The Hole in the Fence”  (Mexico, Poland)
Director: Joaquin del Paso –– Producers: Fernanda de la Peza, Joaquin del Paso

Silver Pyramid – special jury award for best director

“Small Body” (Italy, France, Slovenia)

Director: Laura Samani

Bronze Pyramid Award for best first or second work of a director

“Aloners” (South Korea)

Director: Hong Seong-eun

Actress award

“Swamy Rotolo” for her performance in “A Chiara” (Italy, France)

Director: Jonas Carpignano

Actor award

Mohamed Mamdough for his performance in “Abu Saddam” (Egypt)

Director: Nadine Khan

Naguib Mahfouz award for best screenplay

Peter Kerekes, Ivan Ostrochovsky for “107 Mothers” (Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Ukraine)

Director: Péter Kerekes

Henry Barakat award for best artistic contribution

Jose Angel Alayon for the cinematography of “They Carry Death” (Spain, Colombia)

Director: Helena Girón, Samuel M. Delgado

Best Arab Film selected in any of the three competitions

$10,000 (Presented to the producers of the film)

“The Stranger,” Ameer Fakher Eldin (Syria, Palestine, Germany)

Producers: Tony Copti, Jiries Copti, Dorothe Beinemeier

Special Mention

“Fiasco,” Nicolas Khoury (Lebanon, Netherlands)

The Horizons of New Arab Cinema Competition

Saad Eldin Wahba award for best Arabic film

“Memory Box,” Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige (Lebanon, France)

Salah Abu Seif award – special jury award

“Fiasco,” Nicolas Khoury (Lebanon, Netherlands)

Non-Fiction film award

“From Cairo,” Hala Galal (Egypt)

Acting performance award

Afef Ben Mahmoud for her performance in “Streams”

Jury special mention

“A Second Life,”  Anis Lassoued (Tunisia)

Youssef Cherif Rizkallah award – audience award

“Daughters of Abdel Rahman,” Zaid Abu Hamdan (Jordan)

International Critics’ Week Competition

Shadi Abdel Salam award for best film

“The Stranger,” Ameer Fakher Eldin (Syria, Palestine, Germany)

Fathy Farag award – special jury award

“Wild Roots,” Hajni Kis (Hungary, Slovakia)

Special mention

Actress Arcelia Ramírez for her performance in: “La Civil”

Directed by Teodora Ana Mihai (Belgium, Romania, Mexico)

Fipresci award

“Tomorrow,” Dhafer L’Abidine (Tunisia)