El Gouna Film Festival mirrors region’s thorny issues

The festival featured some 65 films from 42 countries.
Sunday 01/11/2020
(L to R) Yahya Mahayni, Kaouther Ben Hania, and Nadim Cheikhrouha celebrate winning the “Best Arab Narrative” award at the closing of the Gouna Film Festival, on October 30. (AFP)
(L to R) Yahya Mahayni, Kaouther Ben Hania, and Nadim Cheikhrouha celebrate winning the “Best Arab Narrative” award at the closing of the Gouna Film Festival, on October 30. (AFP)

El GOUNA, Egypt- Prominent social issues in the Middle East and North Africa like sectarianism, poverty, homelessness and war were central themes of films featured in the fourth edition of El Gouna Film Festival (GFF), which took place from October 23 to 29, in the Egyptian resort town of El Gouna.

The 4th edition which has been rescheduled to take place one month later than initially planned succeeded to overcome all the difficulties imposed by the preventative strict health protocol in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, Intishal al-Tamimi, the GFF’s manager, told Xinhua news agency.

(L to R) Palestinian producer May Odeh and Palestinian film director Ameen Nayfeh of the film “200 metres” pose with their awards at the closing of Gouna Film Festival, on October 30. (AFP)
(L to R) Palestinian producer May Odeh and Palestinian film director Ameen Nayfeh of the film “200 metres” pose with their awards at the closing of Gouna Film Festival, on October 30. (AFP)

“This year was the most difficult, not only for us but for all humanity. I believe we never met a challenge like this one as the pandemic halted flights and economies all over the world over the past six months,” the GFF’s manager said.

During its seven days, the festival displayed 65 films from 42 countries. Sixteen films are participating in the Feature Narrative Competition, 10 in the Feature Documentary Competition and two in the festival’s special presentations programme. The festival screened 17 films in its official selection out of the competition section.

According to a the festival press release, El Gouna Golden Star Award for feature film went to the film “Where are you going, Aida?” (Quo vadis, Aida?) directed by Bosnian Jasmila Zpanic. The film’s story goes back to July 11, 1995. It talks about Aida who works as a translator for the United Nations in the small town of Srebrenica. When the Serbian army takes over the town, her family is among the thousands of citizens seeking shelter in the UN camp. Aida tries to save her family and the tension mounts as one escape path after another is closed off to them. The film was selected in the official competition of the 77th Venice Film Festival.

Egyptian actor Khaled al-Sawi holds his career achievement award during the closing ceremony of the 4th edition of the Gouna Film Festival, October 30. (AFP)
Egyptian actor Khaled al-Sawi holds his career achievement award during the closing ceremony of the 4th edition of the Gouna Film Festival, October 30. (AFP)

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania won El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Narrative Film for her film “The Man Who Sold His Skin”. The film talks about Sam Ali, a young, sensitive and impulsive Syrian, who fled to Lebanon to escape the Syrian war. Without legal status, he is unable to get a visa to Europe, where his beloved Abeer lives. While in Beirut, he meets Jeffrey Godefroi, a famous American artist with whom he concludes a strange deal that will forever change his life. The Man Who Sold His Skin was among the winning CineGouna SpringBoard projects in development at the 2nd edition of GFF. The film received the Edipo Re Inclusion Award, while actor Yahya Mahayni received the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor at the 77th Venice Film Festival.

Palestinian actor Ali Suliman won the award of El Gouna Star for the Best Actor (Trophy, certificate) for his role on the film  200 Meters which won the Festival’s Audience Award for a film exemplifying humanitarian; while El Gouna Star for the Best Actress went to Bosnian Jasna Djuricic, Quo vadis, Aida.

As for Feature Documentary Competition. El Gouna Golden Star for Documentary Film went to  Days of Cannibalism (France, South Africa, Netherlands) by Teboho Edkins; while Their Algeria by Lina Soualem awarded El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Documentary Film .

Egyptian actor Khaled al-Sawi holds his career achievement award during the closing ceremony of the 4th edition of the Gouna Film Festival, October 30. (AFP)
Egyptian actor Khaled al-Sawi holds his career achievement award during the closing ceremony of the 4th edition of the Gouna Film Festival, October 30. (AFP)

“Their Algeria,” directed by Lina Soualem, was screened in the Feature Documentary Competition. The film revolves around the director’s Algerian grandparents, monitoring their lives in exile for more than sixty years, after which they abruptly decide to separate.

For the Short Film Competition, El Gouna Golden Star for Short Film went to Being My Mom by Jasmine Trinca from Italy. and El Gouna Star for the Best Arab Short Film went to the Egyptian film “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face” by Sameh Alaa.

The film “I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face,” directed by Sameh Alaa, explores feminist issues through the eyes of a character named Adam, a young man who — after being separated from his lover for 82 days  — decides to venture down a rough road dressed in a burqa in order to secretly reunite with her. It is the first Egyptian film to be selected for the Official Short Film Competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 50 years.

Within the activities of the seventh day of the festival, October 29, the closing ceremony of CineGouna Platform was held at the Festival Plaza, where the committee announced the winning projects and films.

French-Algerian director Lina Soualem poses with the “Best Arab Documentary” award, for the film “Their Algeria”, at the closing of the Gouna Film Festival in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of el-Gouna on October 30. (AFP)
French-Algerian director Lina Soualem poses with the “Best Arab Documentary” award, for the film “Their Algeria”, at the closing of the Gouna Film Festival in Egypt’s Red Sea resort of el-Gouna on October 30. (AFP)

Through its event CineGouna SpringBoard and CineGouna Bridge, this platform  aims to empower Arab filmmakers in their quest to acquire artistic and financial support. Among 99 submissions (65 projects in development and 34 films in post-production) from all parts of the Arab world, the jury selected 12 projects ina development (9 narratives and 3 documentaries) and 6 films in post-production (5 narratives and 1 documentary) on the basis of their content, artistic vision, and overall financial feasibility.

The winners of the fourth edition of the CineGouna SpringBoard are Goodbye Julia by Mohamed Kordofani (Sudan) who won the prize for best project in; and Life Suits Me Well by Al Hadi Ulad Mohand (Morocco) received the prize for best film in post-production .

As presented on its website, El Gouna Film Festival is one of the leading festivals in the MENA region. It strives to discover new voices and serve as a catalyst for the Arab world’s cinematic development, especially through its industry segment, CineGouna Platform. It aims to connect filmmakers from the region with their international counterparts in the spirit of cooperation and cultural exchange.