The third international film festival in El Gouna claims to be the main festival in the Arab East and Africa. There were 15 feature films in competition and six of them were Arab - African. In addition, every evening, in the largest cinema of El Gouna the main films of the region were presented as ‘galas’, followed by ‘red carpets’:
You Will Die at Twenty, a Sudanese - Egyptian film directed by Amjad Abu Alala, which received the prize ‘Lions of the Future’ in Venice this year, was awarded the Grand Prix of the festival in El Gouna. I feel this was because it was indeed an unusual, colourful and a vivid picture, which juxtaposed the traditions of the past and the challenges of the modern global world.
Adam, Maryam Touzani (Morocco-France)’s directorial debut, was shown in Cannes in ‘Un Certain Regard” section. It was an amazingly strong story of two women helping each other through life’s difficult trials. The film received the Bronze Star in El Gouna.
1982, directed by Oualid Mouaness (Lebanon-United States-Norway), recipient of the FIPRESCI prize, tells a story about school children who cannot be taken home by parents because of the outbreak of the Lebanese - Israeli War in 1982.
The first full-length animated Egyptian film, The Knight and the Princess, directed by Bashir El Deek and Ibrahim Mouse was also presented as a Gala. Some 250 artists were involved in the production of this beautiful, animated musical.
American Skin directed by Nate Parker was also shown on Galas, although it was made in the US. The film, which tells the story about a black teenager killed by a white police officer, had its world premiere at the 76th Venice Film Festival. Presenting the film, Spike Lee, had said: “I haven’t been affected by a film like this on so many levels in a long, long time”. I totally agree with him – American Skin is made in the tradition of Sidney Lumet.
Noura’s Dream by Minde Boujemas (Tunisia-France-Belgium) was yet another female directorial debut. Noura, played by Tunisian superstar Hend Sabry, is tormented between two imperfect men. She received the Best Actress Award for her role.
It is incredible to see the number of female Arab directors present in El Gouna this year. Algerian film Papicha directed by Mounia Meddour takes us back to Algeria’s bloody black decade in the 1990s – a time when extremism and terrorism reigned. It received the award for the Best Arab Film.
There were plenty of workshops, round tables, panel discussions at El Gouna and, most importantly, at the ‘Cine Gouna Platform’ where twelve projects in various stages of development and post-production from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco received awards of over US$ 250,000. This is of course a big contribution to the development of cinema in the region.
In brief, the El Gouna festival showed the power of a new cinema on the rise in the Middle East and Africa; it highlighted problems even as it threw up new faces and supported the film industry in the form of grants under the guidance of director of festival Intishal Al Timimi, a board member of NETPAC.
Our NETPAC jury – Nada Azhari (Syria, France), Hasan Haddad (Bahrein) and I - gave the prize to an Afghan documentary, Kabul, City in the Wind (Afghanistan-Netherlands-Japan-Germany) directed by Aboozar Amini. There are two characters in the film: a bus driver who loses his bus in the end because he is unable to cope with debts he has incurred for it. And at the centre of second story, a teenager who takes care of his 5 and 2-year-old brothers, since his father has gone to work in Iran. In both cases, we see survival stories, and we hope that the boys will, despite everything, have happier fates than bus driver. This debut film by Amini had already received an award at the Amsterdam Film Festival. In addition to narrating touching stories, it was shot in a magnificent cinematic language. That is why our citation for this work read: “This film filled with humanity, beauty, truth of reality and made in the best cinematic way”.
-- Gulnara Abikeyeva (Kazakhstan)
-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar