Taking a moment to chat with Cairo West, Festival Director of Gouna Film Festival Intishal Al Timimi gives us the lowdown on the 5th edition of the eagerly awaited cinematic event.
By Aliaa Elsherbini
One year has passed since we last met to chat about the ongoing evolution of El Gouna Film Festival. Looking back over the past 12 months, what have been the major challenges you have faced in order to launch the 5th edition of GFF?
Sustainability is the first concept that springs to mind when we talk about the five consecutive years of GFF. Many cultural events in the Arab world have found it difficult to thrive in the challenging conditions the region has been faced with.
In terms of international cinematic interest, the Arab world is not that an attractive market and, in fact, represents only a small percentage of it, adding to that the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed, such as restrictions on movement and travel. At GFF, however, we are determined to overcome all hurdles. So, it is exceptional to witness the growth and survival of a film festival in the region. Intishal Al Timimi
Over its first four years, I believe that GFF was able to establish itself and make a mark in the Arab world. An essential part of any film festival is its ability to progress and improve the quality of experience it offers, and this is what GFF sought and achieved, by maintaining its vision and focus. Our diligence in maintaining this same spirit of innovation and spontaneity is the reason behind our sustained success.
How important has it been to have a cohesive, consistent team managing the process?
As we reach GFF’s 5th edition, credit must go to our growing organizational capability as well as our much more experienced team. We have maintained our passion and drive and gained momentum since the inaugural edition. Our growing organizational capacity is supported by the capabilities of our team, which has been gaining experience and knowledge since we began.
Yet another factor is the diversity of backgrounds combined with the unity of purpose of the GFF team. Everyone, including myself, Amir Ramses, and Bushra Rozza. Through this diversity of background, many points of view are expressed and taken into account, building a unity of purpose that translates into an uncompromising focus on the fresh, innovative, and creative cinematic voices from the region and, indeed, all parts of the world.
What attributes and strengths do you feel that the team members bring to the table?
The core of our operation is a strong system. For us, this concept of order is achieved through several factors. It provides easy access to the information, knowledge and data for all members of the team, which prepares and enables them to handle all kinds of situations that can arise during planning and execution.
We have great cooperation and an inclusive ethos among our team members, making everyone feel part of the festival, regardless of the size of their job or their age. By avoiding an administrative bureaucracy or any sort of obstacles, we are able to all work as one big team, with this spirit being reflected in everything we do. Intishal Al Timimi
Recent film festivals taking place around the globe have showcased some exceptional work. How has GFF 5th Edition maintained such outstanding offerings in its film selection?
As the Festival Director of GFF, I believe that the program is our top priority. Without a quality program, there would be no festival. Since the inauguration of GFF, we have attained a position that we steadily uphold. From the beginning, we insisted on every film being a MENA premiere. Having set such a high benchmark in our inaugural edition, it is impossible to accept any compromise in our standards.
Equally important is the technical quality of screenings. We have put tremendous effort into the technical aspects of our projection systems. Our technical facilities have been so strong and our arrangements so meticulous that we have not had to postpone any film screening in any of the four previous editions of GFF. Intishal Al Timimi
With such a selection of exceptional films, GFF is a hub for filmmaker interactions, so having their participation in panels, screening discussions, and press interviews is a high priority for us.
Why, in your opinion, is El Gouna such a good location for hosting this event?
El Gouna thrives on attracting the greatest possible number of visitors, and so GFF is specifically designed to attract an audience that explicitly visits the resort town to participate in the festival’s activities. We saw this play out in 2020.
What are the top priorities when putting together GFF?
When conceptualizing GFF, I didn’t simply conjure up a plan, I studied all elements of international film festivals, the current state of Arab film festivals, and the possibilities that El Gouna offered so that our program and ambitions would be aligned with our capabilities. Intishal Al Timimi
The concept that GFF adopted for its inaugural edition, in the number of films, number of guests, and most importantly, the inclusion of CineGouna Platform from the very beginning along with the CineGouna Bridge and CineGouna SpringBoard platforms, is proof of a strong and stable foundation established since day one.
What should we be looking forward to the most this year?
GFF has become an important platform for feature narrative and short films as well as documentaries. Actually, short film distributors now consider GFF to be one of the major film festivals for short films, along with Cannes Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival.
As a result, half of our participating short films are having their World Premiere at GFF. In our 5th edition, the directors and producers of all the participating short films have been invited to attend. This is not the norm among festivals and really makes us stand out.
For our 5th edition, we were able to secure the participation of the best and most important Arab productions for our audiences, as well as attracting many of the best films that premiered at Cannes, Venice, Toronto, or San Sebastián film festivals, among other major ones.
I am especially pleased by the diversity of our Special Program, which ranges from Onsi Abou Seif to Fellini, Ihsan Abdel Quddous, Ingmar Bergman, Youssef Chahine, Charlie Chaplin, and, finally, Kieślowski. Kieślowski is one of the legends of cinema, an incredibly inspiring figure internationally.
In this 5th edition, GFF is honoring action cinema. Ahmed El Saka is a much-loved actor, who is considered a lynchpin of modern action cinema in the Middle East, his repertoire includes over 11 blockbuster films. This year, GFF is also honoring the Palestinian star Mohammad Bakri, who is not only a pioneer in Palestinian cinema but is also one of the most prominent Arab cinematic figures.
On the international front, we feel especially thrilled to host a master class by the American director Darren Aronofsky, who is currently one of the most prominent cinematic directors. This is just the tip of the iceberg in what should be a riveting nine days of cinematic experiences.