LAFF, a Success Story

Introduced in Egypt in 1896, cinema rapidly evolved to a thriving industry producing more than 4,000 films to date and becoming a distribution center for American films and, to a lesser extent, European productions. 

Despite Egypt’s early endeavors in exporting its films to Africa, chiefly for the Arab diaspora, no real effort was invested in bringing African films to Egypt. That’s why the Luxor Film Festival is a significant milestone for African films in Egypt today. 

Launched in 2012, the Luxor African Film Festival has been building up momentum to reach out to different artists and filmmakers from the African continent, bridging the gap between Arabic-speaking African countries and the rest of the continent.


The Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) was initiated by the Independent Shabab Foundation (ISF), a non-profit organization active, since 2010, in the arts.

It was the brainchild of ISF’s writer Sayed Fouad’s and director Azza Elhosseiny, who noted the lack of African film screenings in Egypt. The city of Luxor, classified as a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1979 and home to unique monuments and antiquities, hardly hosted any significant cultural or artistic events. It was the first time in Egypt an NGO organized an event of such caliber.

It also came at a time when Egypt was seeking to renew its ties with sub-Saharan Africa and the Nile basin countries after a period of stillness.

ISF started working on the festival since mid-2010, securing numerous partnerships ranging from the Ministry of Culture in Egypt to international networks. About 110 young filmmakers from 37 different African countries have been trained on how to produce low-cost short films under the mentorship of award winning Ethiopian director Haile Gerima, for several years.

The Place: Luxor

Since its very first editions, LAFF established its main celebrations in the victorian style hotel Winter Palace, where the main hosts also stayed. That same hotel played host to hundreds of international journalists and foreign visitors in 1922, who were following the day-to-day story of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter who used the hotel’s noticeboard to deliver occasional news and information on the discovery. It’s not a coincidence that the organizers have chosen “Tutankhamun” as the shield for the awards!

Over 500 miles south of Cairo, Upper Egypt has been long-neglected by officials. Saddled with decades of institutional apathy, this agricultural valley of the Nile has been dismissed for decades as a lost cause, a place from which the locals leave to seek better employment in Cairo. The region has few community centers, and even fewer theaters. For some cities such as Luxor, the economy supports itself with tourism, relying on the surrounding abundance of pharaonic monuments to draw busloads of tourists to its dusty backstreets and tree-lined corniche.

Home to half a million people, Luxor is built on the ancient city of Thebes. Here, dynasties of pharaohs ruled between the 16th and 17th centuries BC, at the height of their power. There are the tombs of kings and queens which attract millions of tourists every year. Why a film festival in Luxor? According to Fouad and El Hosseiny, the Shabab Independent Foundation wanted to take the festival into a city other than Cairo and Alexandria which are saturated with cultural events.

So for more than eight editions, the festival opened in places steeped in history like the colonnaded Terrace Temple of Hatshepsut, the Temple of Karnak, considered the most remarkable religious complex ever built on earth and the Temple of Luxor, where once stood the famous obelisk of Rameses II for over 3300 years before being taken to Place de la Concorde in Paris in 1836. 

It is under the columns of these temples and under the mineral gaze of the ram headed sphinxes that the opening and closing ceremonies were taking place.

The first edition, planned for 2011, had to be postponed because of the 25th of January 2011 popular uprising. The first edition took place in February 2012 amidst a lot of uncertainty and financial problems, as the government have cancelled most major festivals after the 2011 events. The Cairo International Film Festival, the Dance Theatre Festival, the Experimental Theatre Festival and the TV and Radio Festival were all put on hold by the Ministry of Culture. Though partially funded by the government, LAFF is asserting its independence from the ministry.

For El Hosseiny, the executive director of the festival, it was time for civil society to fill in the gaps left by government ministries struggling to adapt in a prolonged interim period.

“Before there were only ministries who made festivals, especially in cinema,” she said at time, adding: “after the revolution, things had to change. We have now developed good experience in organizing events, and the government institutions have become very deficient, so now it’s our role to play in this era.” 

To host the festival, organizers built temporary screening houses in Luxor’s ancient pharaonic temple and adapted the city’s newly opened cultural palace, a community center and museums for showings. In all, the festival will have five venues. “There was one cinema in the area, and the projector hadn’t been used for 20 years. We were also screening at a youth centre, where the projector there was a lot better off because it was previously used for only three years,” remembers Azza El Hosseiny. 

Its regulations specify that it screens films produced by African countries or by African directors from any part of the world. It started with two competitions, long narratives and long documentaries.

In the 2020 edition, LAFF had five competitions and more than four other sections.

Big Names

LAFF paid tribute to prominent African Figures from the continent and the Diaspora in the first edition, such as award-winning Ethiopian director, Haile Gerima, who is considered as the “Godfather of LAFF” as he attended the festival for five consecutive years, with two of his collaborators, teaching film directing to young African filmmakers within the main international workshop. 

Veteran Egyptian director, Daoud Abdel Sayed, was also honored during this first edition. The Tunisian director, Reda Behi, was invited to mentor the first international workshop. The second edition was dedicated to Ousmane Sembène, the late Senegalese director, and paid tribute to veteran directors, Moustapha Alassane from Niger and Souleymane Cissé from Mali. Every edition was named after a pioneer from Africa, including Egypt. Safi Faye (Senegal), Hollywood star Danny Glover, Cheikh Oumar Cissoko (Mali), Mansour Sora Wade (Senega), Pedro Pimenta (Mozambique), Maïmouna N’Diaye (Burkina Faso), Hollywood star Jimmy Jean-Louis, Baba Diop (Senegal), Moroccan directors Saâd Chraïbi, Nour-Eddine Lakhmari, Ezz Alarab Al Alaoui, the producer and writer Firdoze Bulbulia (South Africa), director Kunle Afolayan (Nigeria), Amjad Abu Alala (Sudan) and producer Dora Bouchoucha (Tunisia).

In 2013, the LFF established the Etisal Film Fund to support African film. Eight short feature films and a number of long documentaries were produced, and two long features were developed, all from 16 different African countries.

To expand its international reach, the LFF created partnerships and cooperation protocols with 28 African festivals inside and outside of the continent. Locally, it established three cinema clubs for African cinema in Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor, in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.

About the Author

Hala El Mawy

Hala El Mawy is an Egyptian journalist, film critic and radio presenter at the European Service of Radio Cairo. She has a weekly column on cinema in the daily “Le Progres Egyptien” and the weekly “Al Ahram Hebdo General." El Mawy is Coordinator at the Luxor African Film Festival and was a member of the FIPRESCI jury at many festivals around the world. Learn More