In Conversation with Andrew Mohsen: Insights from a Film Critic and Programmer

Film O’Clock: Can you tell us about your background and experience in the film industry?
Andrew Mohsen: I have been in this field for seven years. As a film critic first and then as a film programmer, working with many festivals, inside and outside Egypt. For me the main school was Cairo International Film Festival, which is the biggest international film festival in the Middle East and Africa. There I worked first as a member of the selection committee, as a programmer and then as artistic director.

Film O’Clock: What inspired you to become a film critic and programmer?
Andrew Mohsen: Since I was young, I loved to watch films. I was responsible for the film schedule with my friends: when to go to films, what to watch, and what new films were going to be released that week. I wanted to study in a film school after I finished high school, but I couldn’t. Anyway, I didn’t stop following the films and I started to write small posts on Facebook with points or feedback on films and TV series. This developed into articles on different websites and printed materials. That is how it started.

Film O’Clock: How do you approach the selection process for films to include in a festival or for review?
Andrew Mohsen: After these years in the field, I have gained very good connections with the filmmakers, producers and sales companies. They always send me their films and I also scout the different festivals for new films and new talents. This is how I get the films and then the process of watching them. I believe the more you watch films, the more you can gain experience in the selection process, because it depends on different aspects. In our work, you can’t say: “I will select it because it is a good film”. You have to look into the idea, the script, acting and every aspect. You also have to adapt to the scale of the festival you are working for, and the different sections you have, because some films may not be competition material, but they are worth watching in other sections.

Film O’Clock: How do you balance being a critic and a programmer, and how does it impact your perspective on films?
Andrew Mohsen: They both complete each other. Film criticism is about analyzing films and writing about the strengths and weaknesses in them. This also applies to programmer work. You evaluate the film to see if it will be suitable for your festival or not. Sometimes I am asked to give feedback to filmmakers while their film is still in the post production phase; if they can change something for the film to be better.
As a programmer, it affects my way of seeing films, because as a programmer you watch much more films than a critic and this gave me a wider vision of how to see films.

Film O’Clock: What advice would you give to aspiring film critics and programmers?
Andrew Mohsen: Don’t stop watching films and don’t stick to a certain type of film. Watch everything: commercials and art-house. Try to watch each film in the way it was meant to be, not the way you want it to be. On the other hand, it is always good to learn from other festivals: how they program, how they get more connections with the filmmakers, what new sections they have. This will help.

Film O’Clock: Can you discuss any trends or themes you have noticed in recent films and whether you think they reflect current societal issues or cultural shifts?
Andrew Mohsen: There were some films that felt post-apocalyptic or post-catastrophic. I think this is normal after what we had during the COVID time. So filmmakers were trying to explore what happens after such times or how to have new beginnings. They were not directly related to the COVID period, but to a different type of catastrophe, like Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund and Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Pierre Földes.

Film O’Clock: How do you see the role of film festivals and programming in fostering a sense of community and fostering engagement with cinema?
Andrew Mohsen: I believe the film festivals are flourishing now somehow, after the COVID period, because people really missed going to film theaters, seeing the filmmakers speaking to them, talking about the film together after. I felt this very very much at the Cairo International Film Festival 2020 edition, because it came at a very critical period while the pandemic was still there, but it was not so severe and it was like people celebrating getting back to life.

Film O’Clock: How does the Film O’Clock International Festival work to promote the preservation of Egypt’s film heritage?
Andrew Mohsen: We have a huge and very long heritage of Egyptian cinema. Unfortunately, with the exception of very few names and titles, it is not very well known and it is not easy to find an Egyptian film on a platform or a retrospective for an Egyptian filmmaker in a European festival. And in Egypt we do not give this importance to the restoration of films. So it is really important what we do in FoC to screen Egyptian classics. It is really helping to shed more light on some great Egyptian films.

Film O’Clock: What are the unique elements of Film O’Clock that make it worth loving and supporting?
Andrew Mohsen: Besides the good team which I love working with, from a cultural point of view, FoC really gives a good idea that people in different countries have many things in common, more than we know or expect. We also are a good platform to screen some shorts in countries where they might not have screened before. There are the panels too, which connect people from different countries in a way. I believe it will grow bigger in the upcoming years and hope these meetings and connections will turn into real projects.