Media fail

Mohamed Salmawy
Thursday 28 Oct 2021

On the fifth round of El Gouna Film Festival.

Our media sometimes truly amazes. A case in point was how reporters outraced each other to present the outfits worn by the actresses participating in El Gouna Film Festival, enthusing in exhaustive detail over the couture and couturiers, while ignoring the activities of the festival itself. There was no coverage of the films being screened, the seminars and exhibits organised, or even the presentation of awards. Then, after it was over, the press criticised the event for having more in common with a fashion show than an international film festival. This seemed indicative of something pathological, perhaps a form of schizophrenia. Was this not a case of a split personality: a press that raves over the texture, cut and drape of the actresses’ dresses one minute, then rails against fashion the next? 

El Gouna Film Festival (14-22 October) screened dozens of Arab and foreign films. Some were premiers while others had taken part in international film festivals abroad. I scoured our press in search of reviews but could find practically nothing. True, some articles gave pause to the Egyptian film, Feathers, which won the critics award in Cannes and was screened for the first time in Egypt at Gouna. But what sparked interest was not its plot or artistic merit nor, indeed, anything about the film at all, but rather that “Inji Kiwan turned heads with her appearance in the movie theatre in a short dress and a scarf on her head” — besides the fact that some actors apparently did not like the film and walked out before it was over. 

There is nothing wrong, of course, about informing the public that such and such an actress had attended the film, regardless of whether or not we had heard of her before, or how long her dress was, or else that some audience members walked out. After all, the job of the media is to inform, is it not? But what of the film itself? What about the subject matter that some audience members seemed to have disapproved of? Why did it receive an award at Cannes? What was the artistic vision of the film’s director, Omar Al-Zohairy, with whom no reporter conducted an interview that I could find? Why was our media so reluctant to give space to such well known film critics as Tarek Al-Shinawi, Magda Moris or Khairiya Al-Bishlawi? At least film lovers and general audiences would have access to some professional insights into Al-Zohairy’s or other films in the festival besides knowledge about this or that actor’s appearance and fashion statement. 

The festival featured a very important exhibit on the famous Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It included posters inspired by his works on loan from the Museum of Film in Lodz, 50 photographs documenting his films, plus a documentary about his life and work. But if our media touched on this exhibit at all, it was only in passing. Kieslowski (1941-1996) acquired international renown for The Double Life of Veronique and his Three Colours trilogy. The British Film Institute ranked him at number two on its list of the top ten film directors of modern times. Surely, here was an opportunity for our media to introduce the Egyptian cinema going audience to the world of that director who won an Academy Award for best director and best screenwriter in 1995. Sadly, this was not to be. Our media opted to let dress length overshadow a director who was unknown to the general Egyptian public before the festival and remains so afterwards.

Instead of restricting its focus to American cinema, which has long dominated world cinema, the  GFF’s selection committee broadened its scope in order to bring the audience some of the best films world of cinema has to offer. Perhaps it was in this spirit that the festival brought us the Finnish film, The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic. The film, Titanic, is one of the icons of American cinema. Might our media have found something of symbolic significance to discuss here? The film itself won the Audience Award at the 2021 Venice Film Festival, but that was not enough to spark the journalists’ attention.

What a relief it was, after a long and arduous search, to find a single article on one of the seminars arranged by the festival organisers. It was on “Film as an Instrument of Social Change” and brought together filmmakers from Egypt and abroad. But what about the festival’s other diverse activities? 

The Egyptian media coverage of GFF was not up to standard, to say the least. Readers and viewers learned almost nothing about the festival, its purpose and its activities apart from trivial superficialities. Though sad, this comes as no surprise given the above-mentioned schizophrenia that has afflicted our media recently, an ailment that drives it to cover things that normal media would not deem newsworthy while in the same breath pushing it to the opposite extreme – to the degree of appealing to the authorities to put a stop to it. Hopefully our media will manage to remedy this contradictory behaviour which hampers its performance before it covers major artistic and cultural events that have proven successful. With our respects to the participant artists and to their attire, maxi or mini. 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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