“Holding El Gouna Film Festival this year is Egypt’s message to the whole world that life has to continue,” said El Gouna Film Festival (GFF, 23-31 October) cofounder Naguib Sawiris at the press conference announcing the fourth round at the Ritz Carlton Hotel last Thursday.
“I thought we should postpone this year’s round altogether the way many other festivals had done, but there was another point of view: that we shouldn’t to stop the wheel turning, and should challenge the pandemic. Egypt needs to open its doors to tourists from all around the world; this is the country’s greatest source of income. So we decided to take the necessary precautions and hold the festival this year in spite of everything. People are waiting for the festival and yearning for joy.”
GFF cofounder Samih Sawiris had other ideas: “I believed that if the Venice and San Sebastian film festivals happened, then we ought to hold our festival as well. Of course it’s very hard to strike the balance between organising something as big as a festival and maintaining precautionary measures. However, we’ve received confirmation from 200 international guests that they will attend, and the events will be held in open air at the new venue, the Gouna Conference and Culture Centre (GCCC).”
This round includes 16 films participating in the Feature Narrative Competition, 10 films in the Feature Documentary Competition, 18 films in the Short Film Competition, and two films in GFF’s Special Presentations programme. The festival will be screening 17 films in its Official Selection out of Competition section.
According to festival director Intishal Al-Timimi, “We decided to invite representatives of international film festivals from all continents to a virtual panel discussion, to emphasise on the importance of supporting the film industry and film festivals. GFF is one of the few film festivals that will be held this year. And just as the Venice Film Festival was an international initiative, El Gouna Film Festival is the first Arab initiative supporting the idea that life must go on.
“This year we had some difficulty inviting American celebrities, but we were able to invite French actor Gérard Depardieu, who will receive a Career Achievement Award, as well as French-Moroccan actor Saïd Taghmaoui, who will receive the Omar Sharif Award. From Egypt, actor Khaled El Sawy and production designer Onsi Abou Seif are the recipients of the Career Achievement Award, for their distinctive and influential contribution to the film industry.”
There will also be an exhibition of designs, sketches, movie posters, awards and clips from the work of acclaimed production designer Onsi Abou Seif.
According to artistic director Amir Ramses, “This year, we were able to curate the best films from Venice, San Sebastian, Berlin and Cannes. They include the Australian film The Furnace, starring Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek and Listen, the Lion of the Future Award winner, as well as Hilal Baydarov’s In Between Dying and Viggo Mortensen’s Falling.
“The opening film is Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania’s The Man Who Sold His Skin, which was a winning film at the second CineGouna SpringBoard projects in development. Egyptian producer Marianne Khoury will be a member of the documentary jury. Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala and Egyptian actor Asser Yassin will be members the feature narrative jury...”
GFF is holding its annual Cinema in Concert, an orchestral performance of classic film scores including Charlie Chaplin’s recently restored The Kid conducted by Ahmed El Saidi, and building on collaborations with the 10th Malmo Arab Film Festival and the Final Cut in Venice workshop to support Arab cinema in Europe.
According to GFF cofounder and COO Bushra Rozza, “The CineGouna Platform is a significant meeting point for filmmakers from around the world with their Arab counterparts. This round will feature a panel discussion on Women’s Empowerment in the Film Industry that will bring together leading female figures like Palestinian filmmaker Najwa Najjar and Indian star Richa Sharma. In addition, famous acting coach Gerald James will be giving an acting workshop as part of the CineGouna Bridge activities.”
The CineGouna SpringBoard received 99 submissions (65 projects in development and 34 films in post-production) from around the Arab world, out of which 18 projects (12 in development and 6 in post-production) were selected to participate this year’s round at the TU Berlin campus (25-29 October).
“Our top priority is the health and safety of our employees, workers, and guests throughout the festival,” Orascom Development Holding CEO Omar El Hamamsy said. “The Gouna Conference and Culture Centre is an open space. We have planned a 90-minute gap between each event and screening to sterilize and disinfect the whole place.”
General coordinator Amal El Masry added, “The existing challenges forced us to rethink all aspects of the festival. For instance, the pandemic has pushed us to reduce the use of paper and focus on digital alternatives, which would have happened eventually anyway. So, in my opinion, the challenges actually accelerated the improvement of the festival.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly