The late Moustapha Akkad, director of the epic “The Message”, about the life of Prophet Mohammed, and Adel Imam, an icon of Egyptian comedy, were celebrated for their groundbreaking roles in the genre.
Akkad, who was 75 when he was killed with his daughter Rima in an Amman bombing last month, was given an achievement award accepted by his son Malek Akkad.
“When he came to Hollywood, my father was asked to change his name and downplay his religion, but he refused,” said an emotional Akkad on Wednesday.
“In fact, he took every opportunity to promote it [Islam].”
Akkad was born in Syria and left at age 19 to study cinema at UCLA. His breakthrough came in 1976 when he produced and directed “The Message”.
He took the unprecedented step of directing the film in English and Arabic simultaneously – with two completely different casts.
“Many people converted to Islam after watching that film,” said Mohammed Rouda, a writer and close friend of Akkad’s, “and most got a better understanding of the religion.”
“When he came to Hollywood, my father was asked to change his name and downplay his religion, but he refused”
Malek Akkad, accepting the award on behalf of his father, the late Moustapha Akkad
Adel Imam received his award for a career spanning 40 years in theatre and film. He humorously recounted his father’s suspicion about acting when he began his career. “He asked me, ‘Why do you come home so late?’ And I said, ‘Don’t you read the newspapers?’ I wish he could be here today to see me being honoured?”
Imam, 65, is screening his latest comedy, “El-Sefara fi El-Omara”, or The Embassy is in the Building. He plays an Egyptian philanderer moving from Dubai to Cairo only to find the Israeli embassy has moved into his building.
The satire takes on the sensitive issue of Egyptian-Israeli ties.
“These days especially, with all these explosions and terrorist acts, we will continue to build on our past of creativity,” he said.
Oscar winner Morgan Freeman and Indian directing legend Yash Chopra were also honoured.
“With this opportunity, I see a way for me and my colleagues in America to clutch hands, West to East, so that we can all be part of this vision of being nice and coming together,” said Freeman.
The film festival ends on 17 December.