by Mahmoud Fouly
ASWAN, Egypt, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- On a red carpet at a hotel yard overlooking the Nile River in Egypt's charming city of Aswan, Egyptian and foreign movie stars and filmmakers showed up in the fourth Aswan International Women Film Festival (AIWFF).
The festival, dedicated to highlight women's role and advocate their causes and held on Feb. 10-15 under the auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, featured more than 50 films from over 30 states, 31 of which have been selected to join the official completions for short and feature films.
"This festival stands on four legs, one of which is the films discussing women's issues. The second is a forum for women's issues gathering activists from the whole world. The third pillar is workshops for 210 youth filmmaking trainees. The fourth is a salon for film producers," said Egyptian screenwriter Mohamed Abdel-Khalek, president and founder of AIWFF.
The festival, which is sponsored by the Egyptian National Council for Women and co-funded by the European Union (EU), selects an international star or filmmaker as a guest of honor every year since its establishment in 2018.
"They don't have to be females. They can be females who have been contributing to women's causes or working for decades in the cinema industry, or males who advocate women's issues," the festival's president told Xinhua.
The opening ceremony of the gala honored Spanish award-winning actress Victoria Abril, guest of honor of AIWFF 2020.
Abril expressed her appreciation of the AIWFF gesture and her love for Egypt, which she visited a long time ago at the invitation of her friend, late Egyptian and international movie star Omar Sharif.
"Being here is realizing my dream of coming back to Egypt, which I visited in 1983 while filming a movie called, 'Le Voyage.' At that time, I came by sea from Italy's Venice to Egypt's Alexandria and then shot parts of the film in the Egyptian capital Cairo," said the Spanish actress living in France.
"Later in 2000, my friend Omar Sharif invited me to come to attend Cairo International Film Festival," she told Xinhua.
The opening ceremony of the gala honored Egyptian actresses Nelly Karim and Ragaa el-Geddawy and renowned Egyptian ex-diplomat and feminist Mervat Tallawy.
Geddawy, who has been enriching the silver screen for about six decades, almost shed tears of joy on stage while being honored by the festival.
As for Tallawy, a former Egyptian minister of social affairs and former chief of the Arab Women Organization, she expressed happiness that defending women's rights has reached a level to be the focus of a film festival.
"Films and TV series are certainly a means to change collective misconceptions and remove inherited negative labels about women. No matter how many laws we issue, they are useless if we don't change anti-female negative social traditions through such activities," the renowned Egyptian women's rights activist told Xinhua.
The long film competition involves 11 films including eight feature films, two documentaries and an animation movie for the first time in AIWFF, while the short film competition has 20 films including ten feature films, six documentaries and four animation films.
The screened films include two international premiers and three Oscar-nominated films, one of which is the Syrian documentary "the Cave," which has already won nine awards in different festivals.
Jury members for different competitions include movie stars and filmmakers from Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, the Philippines and Nigeria.
"The festival looks good and promising and the screened films are distinguished. It's a nice thing to dedicate a film festival to discuss women's issues," said Egyptian actress and jury member Salwa Khattab.
For her part, Dora Bouchoucha, Tunisian film producer and jury chief for the Euro-Mediterranean Award offered by the EU, described the festival as a good platform to promote gender equality.
"This is my first time to participate in AIWFF. The festival is a necessary initiative for promoting women's rights in our Arab world," the Tunisian film producer told Xinhua.