Back on course

Nahed Nasr , Tuesday 10 Oct 2023

Nahed Nasr met with the director and artistic director of the sixth El Gouna Film Festival

Intishal Al Timimi
Intishal Al Timimi

 

The El Gouna Film Festival (GFF, 27 October - 2 November) resumes its activities for a sixth round after a year’s hiatus that does not seem to have undermined its strategy of playing an influential role in the cinematic scene, whether through its film programs or industry platforms. Together with Intishal Al-Tamimi, the director of the festival and one of the most prominent contributors to its founding in 2017, and director-producer Marianne Khoury, who recently took on the role of artistic director, are both confident of the success of this round.

According to Al Tamimi, the key to the GFF’s sustained success and its recognition among audience and critics lies in the fundamental principles on which the festival was built. “The festival was conceived as a comprehensive platform for cinematic excellence. A pivotal and indispensable element of this concept was, and continues to be, robust and innovative programming, and its role as a hub for co-production.” The latter reference is to the CineGouna Platform comprising CineGouna SpringBoard and CineGouna Bridge which have enabled the festival to extend both artistic and financial support to a diverse range of film projects in their development and post-production stages. He also expressed his appreciation for the participation of many stars who not only attend the Red Carpet celebrations but also actively engage and participate in events and programmes throughout the festival, adding a unique flavour to its activities.

Regarding the impact of last year on the festival and its various arrangements and programmes, Al Tamimi believes that the last year’s suspension served as an invaluable opportunity to gain a deep appreciation for the festival’s profound significance to the audience, critics and industry professionals. “The GFF stands as a foundational pillar in advancing the cinematic movement within the region, offering an invaluable platform to showcase the latest global cinematic productions year-round. Thus, when news of our impending return emerged, it was met with tremendous enthusiasm and a warm welcome. Now, as we re-emerge, we do so with fortified organisational capabilities and a heightened sense of purpose. These enhancements will be evident to everyone through the programmes featured in our upcoming round.”

Al Tamimi sees the appointment of Marianne Khoury in the post of artistic director as a pivotal addition that has helped expand the festival’s horizons. “No festival must continue with its existing strengths and accumulated experiences alone. It must inject new ideas and perspectives to enhance and develop its performance.” Khoury, he feels, brings on board an exceptional knowledge of the international film industry as well as a deep relationship with the regional and local film community. “This year,” he adds, “our artistic team has also been enriched with the inclusion of Andrew Mohsen and Mouwafak Chourbagui in the programming team. Additionally, critic Ahmed Shawky joined us to manage the CineGouna SpringBoard, and Youssef El Shazli came on board to manage and expand the CineGouna Bridge. These esteemed individuals will collectively enhance the festival’s artistic prowess, complementing the immense wealth of experience brought to it by seasoned programmers such as Nicole Guillemet, Teresa Cavina, and Raman Chawla.”

 The new team members, according to Al Tamimi, are no strangers to the festival, which made their integration into its fabric a natural process. Regarding how the GFF might achieve the challenging task of balancing pressing economic circumstances with artistic quality, Al Tamimi says that having a stable economic environment can contribute to the success and growth of a festival, but it is definitely not the sole factor for success or quality. “We do seek to expand the festival’s resources by engaging with a large number of supporting entities and companies.They all face the same challenging economic conditions, but they also understand that this cultural endeavour must continue.”

Regarding the expansion of the festival’s audience presence, which has always been an ambition, Al Tamimi says, “Each round has witnessed a remarkable expansion in the audience. Even though the inaugural edition drew an unexpectedly high number of attendees for a festival in its infancy, it is important to note that the GFF’s appeal extends far beyond the confines of El Gouna; it attracts audiences from various parts of Egypt, the Arab world, and even Europe, all converging to relish a splendid artistic retreat. Our last round saw a noteworthy surge in attendance across various festival events.”

For Al Tamimi, the GFF’s true hallmark lies in its collaborative spirit. “With multiple leaders and key contributors we function as a unified team, while each member complements the others across artistic, logistical, planning, and management domains. It’s true that, when I assumed leadership during the inaugural round, I incorporated lessons from my past experiences. It is important to acknowledge the diversity of backgrounds and experiences within our management and artistic teams

encompassing logistical expertise, project management, and cultural development insights. Thus, from the festival’s inception, teamwork and synergy among team members have been the guiding principles.”

Throughout the six-year journey, the GFF has navigated various administrative adjustments, ultimately arriving at the stable framework it enjoys today. He says that the festival takes pride in having established a creative model that garners praise from many other festivals in the region. “The essence of festival work, much like life itself, centres on healthy competition, constructive challenges, collective efforts, and contributions to the greater good. I envision significant prospects for this festival, as our enduring legacy resides in our established work ethic, cohesive team, conceptual foundation, and strong belief that this festival can only grow and thrive.”

 

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For her part, the new artistic director Marianne Khoury says that the sixth GFF is the culmination of the previous rounds, which were not only successful but distinguished, and is also full of new additions that constitute important steps forward. “Day after day the El Gouna Festival is proving its status as a unique and effective platform in supporting the film industry and filmmakers, as well as entertaining and satisfying movie lovers.” According to Khoury, the film programme, which was co-selected by a highly professional programming team, is strong, balanced, and diverse in all competitions and special programs. She says that one of the GFF highlights this year is the presence of French film critic Jean-Michel Frodon, which is a good opportunity for young people to meet such a progressive cinematic figure. He is part of the GFF event paying tribute to the late iconic British-French star Jane Birkin. “Fondon will present the special program of Birkin where five of the films she participated in either as an actress or director will be screened. He will speak about her position in world cinema and the reason these five films were selected.”

The five films in question are Boxes (2007) directed by Birkin herself, Jane B. for Agnès V. (1988) and Kung-Fu Master! (1988), both directed by the renowned Agnès Varda, Jane by Charlotte (2021), a biographical film by her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg and Death on the Nile (1978), directed by John Guillermin and filmed in Egypt.

Birkin is being honoured this year, Khoury says, because she died last July, but also because she is “a very special person, not only as an artist. For example, the way she began her artistic career as a sex symbol in the 1960s and 1970s, and how over time she was able to succeed as an actress and singer, working with many distinguished filmmakers, and then also breaking into film directing. She had many charitable works, and also bold political stances, to the point that one of her political songs was banned In France. She has been married three times to prominent people. She is a beautiful symbol of freedom and decisive vision.”

This year, the GFF honours distinguished Egyptian director Marwan Hamed, which Marianne Khoury considers “an excellent choice”. Hamed was able to achieve the difficult equation of directing artistic films for a broad audience. “He makes films with high technical and artistic craftsmanship that garner revenues at the same time, as he always keeps his eye on the audience. Festivals’ choices of films or figures to celebrate usually reflect what is going on in the industry,” she goes on. “For example, a film the festival is screening this year is Al Shanab [or “The Mustache”], directed by Ayten Amin. She is a very good director artistically, but at the same time she tends to flirt with the audience. It is a light film featuring well-known stars, but it discusses a very important topic. The festivals’ selections reflect our vision of the industry, of which the audience is a very important part.”

As for the Arab honouree, this year the GFF celebrates the Lebanese duo of filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. Khoury says they are connected to each other in every way, whether in their personal life as a couple or in filmmaking. “There is no film in Joanna’s filmography in which Khalil does not participate. In narrative and documentary films, as well as in video art, sculpture, and photographic installations. It is a celebration of diversity, duality, team spirit, and joint creativity.”

Khoury says she is comfortable with her new post because it is based on the festival management’s response to her vision, which is largely consistent with the festival’s. The most important element in that vision is expanding participation. In this context, the GFF this year added the CineGouna Emerge programme, an initiative carried out in cooperation with the United Nations in Egypt “to support and empower the next generation of filmmakers”. It is directed at film students and emerging directors, who are invited to attend the GFF and participate in its various activities. One of the new items this year as well is the CineGouna Market which introduces a new workspace for established and emerging filmmakers in the Arab film industry, including producers, distributors, and sales agents.

In addition to hosting an ever-widening spectrum of filmmakers to attend the festival’s activities, the GFF this year also introduced a new programme, GFF×Zawya, in cooperation with Zawya, the pioneering art house cinema in Cairo, to screen a selection of GFF films in the capital in conjunction with the festival. Khoury says that all the festival’s programmes serve each other, so there is no separation between them, but rather every new addition enhances the role of existing programmes and vice versa. “Artistic management of a festival as large as El Gouna is a new and exciting experience. The GFF has a very professional team and it is a very well established festival that serves the film industry and filmmakers in various ways. Therefore, integrating into the team was an enjoyable challenge and being able to add and develop was an exciting process. However, I always felt like I was an integral part of the team, as I learned something new every day.”


* A version of this article appears in print in the 12 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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