Paradise! The first word that comes to one’s mind on reaching El Gouna, a picturesque resort on Egypt’s Red Sea, which is blue as blue can be! Both the beautiful place and the El Gouna Film Festival are the creation of the Sawiris brothers – Mr. Samih Sawiris and Engineer Naguib Sawiris. In 5 years, El Gouna Film Festival (GFF) has been established as the most important and successful film festival of the MENA region. The success of this festival is thanks to the vision and dedication of its Festival Director, Intishal Al Timimi who brought his astute knowledge of films and film festivals to El Gouna, thus ensuring that from its inception GFF had all the elements of an international film festival as well as a strong platform for the filmmakers of the region.
I was invited as juror on the NETPAC Jury and my co-jurors were Bae Chang-ho and Mouhamad Keblawi. We were unanimous in our decision to present the NETPAC award to the Russian, Estonian and French production Captain Volkonogov Escaped by Aleksey Chupov and Natasha Merkulova (also the winner of the El Gouna Bronze Star for Narrative Film). Special Mention was given to Once Upon a time in Calcutta by Aditya Vikram Sengupta.
Captain Volkonogov Escaped is set during Stalin’s Great Terror - campaign of political repression when innocent citizens were tortured and killed on trumped up charges. Captain Volkonogov, the eponymous protagonist, becomes a target of the National Security Service to which he belonged. He manages to escape, but his former colleagues are out to hunt him down. The chase is very thrilling as he stays ahead of the hunters. He was advised that to obtain salvation he must seek forgiveness from the families of the wrongly condemned and killed victims. As he approaches the victims’ families, the gruesome acts of violence surface and a very relevant thought crosses one’s mind: that who will want to forgive him after all the atrocities committed by him and his colleagues on innocent people. Yuriy Borisov gives a brilliant performance in the demanding role of the Captain.
Once Upon a Time in Calcutta is a tribute to the city of Calcutta! Sengupta successfully juxtaposes the past and present of both the city and its people. Some clinging to the past like the theatre owner and others seeking newer pastures and presumably a better quality of life. Corruption is rampant; heavy construction and development is going on all around; the city is undergoing a change; development is bulldozing the past but not necessarily for the best; a flyover comes tumbling down. The cinematography of Gokhan Tiryaki vividly captured the two extremes of the city.
The 5th CineGouna Platform was a great success with young aspiring Arab filmmakers thronging to the CineGouna SpringBoard and CineGouna Bridge programmes specially organized for them. This year too CineGouna Platform presented 2 awards to the best project in development and to the best film in post-production. The response for Darren Aronofsky’s Masterclass was so overwhelming that the venue was changed to the huge Festival Plaza. Everyone sat riveted listening to him, most of the questions he was asked were about his dark and difficult film Mother.
GFF is a film festival with a heart – it is humanitarian in nature and has deep concern for the environment – Ostrov – Lost Island by Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop won the Cinema for Humanity Audience Award and the El Gouna Green Star Award for issues related to the environment went to Costa Brava Lebanon by Mounia Aki.
GFF offers great cinema and glamour at a stunning venue – could one ask for more?
The 11 films competing for the NETPAC Award at GFF
- Anima by Lillya Timirzyanova (Russia)
- Captain Volkonogov Escaped by Aleksey Chupov & Natasha Merkulova (Russia, Estonia, France)
- Invisible Demons by Rahul Jain (India)
- Life of Ivanna by Renato Borrayo Serrano (Documentary Russia, Norway, Estonia, Finland)
- Mama, I’m Home by Vladimir Bitokov (Russia)
- Once Upon a time in Calcutta by Aditya Vikram Sengupta (India, France, Norway)
- One Second by Zhang Yimou (China)
- The Blue Inmates by Zeina Duccache (Lebanon)
- The Sea Ahead by Ely Dagher (Lebanon, France)
- This Rain will Never Stop by Alina Gorlova (Documentary Ukraine, Germany, Latvia)
- Unclenching Fists by Kira Kovalenko (Georgia, Russia)
-- by Indu Shrikent – NETPAC Jury Member (India)
-- edited by Raman Chawla, NETPAC
Ms. Indu Shrikent Born in 1948 in New Delhi, India, Indu Shrikent joined Cinemaya, The Asian Film Quarterly in 1993, the only journal devoted to Asian cinema in the world. One of the founder members of NETPAC India, she helped in organizing Film Appreciation Courses, Screenplay Workshops, film weeks from Asian countries (South Korea, Iran, Turkey) and retrospectives of filmmakers like Omer Kavur from Turkey; Prasanna Vithanage from Sri Lanka. Indu was the Co-director of Cinefan since its inception in 1999 with Aruna Vasudev and helped in the growth of the festival. She was the Festival Director of 12th Osian’s - Cinefan Film Festival. She has served as a juror at several international film festivals like Istanbul, Ismailia, Berlin, Amiens, Busan, Locarno (President of the short film competition), FAJR, Rotterdam, Vesoul, Cinemanila, Brisbane, Jeonju and Cinemalaya. She was a member of the FIPRESCI Jury in Hong Kong in 2010. She has attended several film festivals – Cannes, Tokyo; MEIFF, Abu Dhabi; SAARC film festival held in Colombo, Singapore, Toronto, Molodist in Kiev; and FAJR, Urban Film Festival & Festival for Martyrs in Iran.
In 2009 and 2010 Indu attended the Southern Film Festivals Conference in Granada and in 2010 at Doha which was held during the Al Jazeera Documentary Film Festival. Presently she is working at Osianama Research, Library, Archive and Sanctuary.