Two powerful figures in the Arab world, Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy and Tunisian-born actor and model Hend Sabri, have been named Officers of the Order of Arts and Letters, France’s highest honors.
The ceremony took place in Cairo on Wednesday, and the honor was given by Stéphane Romatet, the ambassador of France in Egypt. The Order of Arts and Letters recognizes “eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world.”
Hefzy, who is known for being charismatic and forward-thinking, has presided over the Cairo Film Festival since 2018 and has succeeded in raising its international profile significantly.
Hefzy’s award-winning credits span more than 30 feature films in Egypt, the U.S., U.K. and the Arab world. His banner Film Clinic, which was founded in 2006 and now ranks as a leading production company in Egypt and the Arab world, is behind films that have played at key film festivals, including Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Sundance and Toronto. Within the last four years, Hefzy delivered three films that unspooled at Cannes, notably “Clash” by Mohamed Diab in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ program in 2016 , A.B. Shawky’s feature debut “Yomeddine,” which competed at Cannes in 2018, and Ayten Amin’s “Souad,” which was part of Cannes 2020’s official selection.
Hefzy recently became a member of the producers’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hefzy, who is part of Variety’s V500 ranking, is also actively supporting independent filmmakers in Egypt and across the Arab world.
“I have always felt a strong connection to France, from my elementary education in a French school in Cairo, to the films I co-produced with France, and the bond I have formed over the years with my friends and counterparts in French cinema and the French cultural sector,” said Hefzy, who also works closely with Paris-based producer Daniel Ziskind, the manager and producer of Film Clinic in Europe.
Hefzy said France has been a “huge inspiration to (him) as a writer and producer.”
“I was thrilled by Clouzot, learned the rules of the game from Renoir, was made breathless by Godard, and had a very long engagement with Jeunet,” said Hefzy.
Meanwhile, the Cairo-based Sabri — an actor, model and producer — previously received the honorary title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters from France’s culture minister in 2014. Sabri began her film career in 1994, appearing in Tunisian films including Moufida Tlatli’s “The Silences of the Palace” and “The Season of Men,” and Nouri Bouzid’s “Clay Dolls.”
Sabri, who served on the Venice Film Festival jury in 2019, previously won several accolades, notably at the Carthage Festival, and she most recently received the Excellence Award at Cairo Festival in 2017.
Aside from her acting duties, Sabri is involved in various social and humanitarian causes, including women’s rights organizations in France. She was included in CEO Middle East magazine’s list of the world’s top 100 most powerful Arab women in 2013.
Sabri said “this appointment as the youngest Arab woman Officer of Arts and Letters is another stone in the very solid foundation” that has always been her relationship with France.
Sabri received a French education in Tunisia and participated in several films co-produced with France. As a model, she has also maintained a strong bond with France, having been an ambassador for Garnier, a L’Oreal brand, in the Arab world.
“Today, I pass on to my two daughters and my audience all the richness of this double identity that I claim,” said Sabri. “This is an honorary distinction given since 1957 by the French Ministry of Culture, one of the four highest ministerial orders bestowed by the French Republic.”