Documentaries and short films are undoubtedly honest and heartfelt genres that promote the dialogue between cultures. Films deepen our understanding of others’ different social visions, values, and thoughts.
It is the belief in the importance of shorts and documentaries being able to establish this understanding that gave birth to the idea of the Ismailia International Film Festival For Documentaries and Shorts in 1991.
Over the course of the festival’s editions, managements and directors changed and things progressed and grew in various ways. Yet the Ismailia International Film Festival For Documentaries and Shorts remained committed to showcasing important and significant documentaries and shorts in a celebration of cinema, creativity, and the undeniable influence of film.
Egyptian and international filmmakers both value the festival and consider it a viable showcase for their works.
A Word from Hashim El Nahas | Founder of The Ismailia International Film Festival
When I was appointed as the Director of the National Cinema Center, I thought it might have been a chance to make the dream of all documentary filmmakers come true; the dream of establishing an annual festival for documentaries and shorts where winners receive prizes and the development of documentary filmmaking industry is widely discussed by Establishing the festival outside Cairo was the first thought that crossed my mind for two reasons; first, to expand the cultural activities outside Cairo where almost all cultural events are exclusively taking place; second, to make of the event a culture camp for Egypt’s documentary and short filmmakers where they spend a few days only watching films and discussing filmmaking away from the everyday distractions that usually take place in Cairo.
Luxor was the first place that came to my mind to host the festival; however on my visit to the city to measure the capacity of the place, the officials at the governorate and the culture palace didn’t show enthusiasm for the idea. Furthermore, Luxor is located relatively far from Cairo; this would make the expenses higher and would restrict the guests’ freedom to travel to Cairo whenever necessary to follow up on work and preparations progress.
Ismailia was the second choice as a host city; for the place is not too far from Cairo. Moreover, the idea was received with enthusiasm by the then Ismaila governor, Abdel Moneim Emara; consequently, the first edition of the festival was launched in March 1988. Since Ahmed Al Hadary had previously organized an Egyptian film festival for documentaries and shorts at the Visual Image Center for ten years (1971-1980), I decided to refer to the first edition of the Ismailia festival as the eleventh; to be an expansion of what Al Hadary started ten years ago, even if the two festivals were not the same.
Held in the limits of the compact place offered by the Visual Image Center (50 seats), the previous festival was only a film competition where prizes were submitted at the closing ceremony. As for the new festival, the programs witnessed a relative expansion and the event received a larger number of guests; filmmakers, artists and audience from Ismailia. In addition to the films participating in the festival's official competition, the programs included screenings of a selection of classical films from the national archive to commemorate one of the major documentary filmmakers, a discussion panel on documentary and shorts filmmaking, releasing festival brochures, printing and distributing the flyers for the discussion panels.
In 1991, when I was Director of the National Cinema Center, I planned for another international film festival for documentaries and shorts, in addition to the national one. The first edition of the international festival was launched in 1991 simultaneously with the 14th national festival, marking the first in Egypt's cinema history.
In my opinion, this was a very late move with regard to the history of the Egyptian cinema that started in the beginning of the twentieth century. With the new international section, the festival ran for six days instead of three. Consequently the number of the screenings and prints doubled, and the event became increasingly more diverse.
During the 15th national festival, and the second international festival that were held in April, 1992, 30 countries participated from across the world, 160 films were screened, 49 foreign filmmakers attended the event; five of which were members of the international jury. Moreover, 59 Egyptian films were screened, including 26 films from the National Cinema Center, 7 of which were the directorial debut of young filmmakers.
Main screenings were held at the Research Hall (which is under the jurisdiction of The Suez Canal Authority). They included films participating in the international and local competitions, and films part of the special programs (awareness programs and commemorations of major filmmakers).
Screenings took place in six locations inside the city, three outside, and eight in Cairo. Morning and midnight premiere screening events were held at the hotels hosting the festival guests; usually the midnight screenings included controversial films. A discussion panel on cinema and archeology was held within the frame of the 15th edition of the festival. Print collateral included three brochures, three research papers, flyers, and the festival catalog.
The third international film festival and the 16th national film festival were the last to be held under my presidency before I left my position as Director of the National Cinema Center. Later, Samir Gharib, Director of the Culture Development Fund, held the fourth international film festival and appointed film analyst Samir Farid as the Festival Director.
Unsatisfied by the press reaction to that round, Gharib decided to deactivate the festival; as, it was said, he thought the press should have praised him instead of attacking him, or there might have been other reasons that lead to the decision. Gharib merged the Egyptian Film Festival for Documentaries with the Feature Films Festival and gave it the title: The National Film Festival for Documentaries and Features, which was held in Cairo. Marking a new beginning, the new festival was referred to as the first National Film Festival.
The International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts was not held until film analyst Ali Abu Shadi was selected as Director of the National Cinema Center; he brought the festival back into action in 2001 at Ismailia, where it was first launched. Considered a continuation of the previous editions, the festival was referred to as the fifth and was held on an annual basis until the eighth edition in 2004.
The International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts did not only retain all the previous activities; in addition the film screenings became widely organized after the construction of the Ismailia Cultural Palace. Similarly, the air-conditioned theaters became more comfortable and offered better quality (this phrase is unnecessary), and the sports city was able to receive a larger number of guests.
The festival gained wider recognition and the number of guests, audiences and films had obviously increased. This gave the chance to better screenings. Festival print collateral also benefited from this change and were enjoying a better production quality. In summary, the late editions of the International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts were considered one of Egypt's best film festivals, if not already the best and most organized of them all.
There is no doubt that this festival has come back to the limelight thanks to the increasing efforts by Farouk Housni, Minister of Culture, and the continuous cooperation of Ismailia governors namely: Abdel Moneim Emara, Ahmed Gwaili and Fouad Sadeddin, who enthusiastically received the idea of having Ismailia the host city of the festival.