El Gouna Film Festival draws international talent to Egypt
CAIRO - Film-makers, producers, directors and actors from across the world flocked to El Gouna Film Festival to highlight the Egyptian and regional film industry.
More than 80 films, including 11 Arab entries, were screened during the week-long festival and 40 films participated in the festival’s official competition, with Siew Hua Yeo’s “A Land Imagined” winning the top award.
The festival is the only private film festival in the Arab region and is the brainchild of Egyptian tycoons Naguib and Samih Sawiris. This was the second El Gouna Film Festival and few could have expected it to become so popular so quickly.
Organisers said the festival aspires to become a top international film event that attracts top cinema industry leaders and celebrities. “This is never out of reach,” said Amir Ramses, festival artistic director. “My colleagues and I are working hard for the achievement of this goal.”
The festival is seeking, Naguib Sawiris said, to become an occasion for cultural exchange among peoples, countries and regions.
This year, the festival adopted the slogan “Cinema for Culture.” It looked at rampant bloodshed, conflicts and wars in the Arab region and beyond, hoping to play a role in connecting people and teaching the values of coexistence and tolerance.
“What is happening in Syria has nothing to do with humanity,” Naguib Sawiris said September 20 at the festival’s opening. “What happens in Iraq or in Myanmar has nothing to do with humanity either.”
The Sawiris brothers and other sponsors spent $3.3 million to bring together 450 people involved in the cinema industry, including 150 international actors, actresses, producers, directors and critics. International celebrities attending the event included American stars such as Patrick Dempsey, Owen Wilson, Andrew Wilson and Brazilian actress Desiree Popper.
Hollywood action star, director and screenwriter Sylvester Stallone was awarded El Gouna Special Innovation Achievement Prize.
“Egypt as a name invokes imagination and beauty,” Stallone said to a cheering crowd of local, Arab and international cinema stars at the festival closing ceremony September 28. “It is very nice to be here.”
Films making their premieres in El Gouna included the French production “The Freshmen,” the French-Belgian-German production “Dilili in Paris” and the Polish production “Mug.”
The participation of Hollywood stars such as Stallone brought international attention to El Gouna, an up-and-coming Red Sea resort 25km north of Hurghada. The Egyptian government is trying to use the notoriety to return activity to the local tourism sector.
Egyptian Tourism Minister Rania al-Mashat said the ministry would include the festival in its entertainment plan for next year. She said the festival showed that security has returned to Egypt’s tourist destinations in the Red Sea and in South Sinai.
“Such festivals also give a positive message about Egyptians who like to be open to other peoples and cultures,” Mashat said.
“A Land Imagined” won El Gouna Film Festival’s Gold Star. Directed by Yeo, a Singaporean director, the film tells the story of two Chinese construction workers who go missing at a Singaporean construction site.
El Gouna Film Festival also highlighted local and regional talent. The Syrian film “Of Fathers and Sons,” directed by Talal Derki, won El Gouna Star for best Arab film in the documentary category. Egyptian film “Yomeddine,” directed by Abu Bakr Shawky, won best Arab film in the features category.
“Most of the films participating in the festival, including ones from Arab countries, were top productions that were worthy of festival prizes, too,” said Egyptian cinema critic Tarek al-Shenawi. “This high standard of the films participating also shows that the festival administration is keen on bringing in the best of the best.”