Hot on the heels of Toronto and Telluride, the first ever El Gouna Film Festival has joined the ranks of industry events to mark on the calendar. Filling a void left with the demise of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and the closure of Doha Tribeca, GFF has succeeded in providing a vital platform for both emerging filmmakers and well-established industry names from the region. A collaborative venture, led by business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, El Gouna founder Samih Sawiris and GFF Festival Director and co-founder Intishal Al Tamini, ‘Cinema for Humanity’ maintained its focus on humanitarian ideals, and the role of film in attracting dialogue and understanding. Putting together the right team, which included the talents and expertise of actress, producer and GFF COO Bushra Rozza and Egyptian squash champion and event organizer Amr Mansi GFF CEO and co-founder, was key to the success of the ground-breaking event. And what could be more enticing than the lure of some great cinema, set in an idyllic Red Sea resort?
El Gouna was buzzing with activity. Already a popular venue for international tourists, the influx of visitors for GFF added to the upbeat mood. Celebrities could be spotted here, there, and everywhere. The late summer weather made for pleasant relaxation, mixing and mingling throughout the resort’s many venues and entertainment spots.
The launch event could proudly hold its place amongst the major film festivals that take place. All the elements were there, the big names, the directors and promoters, the stars of the Egyptian film industry and prestigious guests from abroad. Glitz and glamour were in abundance, adding to the general excitement and air of anticipation. The evening was expertly hosted by a very poised and gracious Nardine Farag, with support from the ebullient actor and comedian Ahmed Fahmy.
The components that give any film festival its credentials were integral. With a well-selected spectrum of narrative, documentary and short films and two sections, the CineGouna Springboard and CineGouna Bridge, both supporting up-and-coming talent from Egypt and the Arab countries, the festival was well rounded. CineGouna will perform a vital role by helping source both creative and financial support for regional producers and directors working on new films.
A special moment in the launch event came with the presentation of awards to industry icons that have earned a place in the spotlight. Much-loved Adel Emam received tributes in a video compilation from fellow movie stars Mona Zaki, Ahmed Helmy, Ahmed Fahmy, Menna Shalaby, Ragaa El Gedawy, and Essad Younes before receiving a special Career Achievement Award from actress Yousra and Naguib Sawiris.
Renowned Lebanese film critic and journalist Ibrahim El Ariss was presented with an Achievement Award by actress Hend Sabry for his contribution to the industry through his many books and articles, giving deserved recognition to another facet of the rich world of cinema.
As the evening drew on, with great fanfare and an awe-inspiring pyrotechnic display breaking out overhead, director Amr Salama’s film Sheikh Jackson filled the screen. Following on its enthusiastic reception at Toronto Film Festival, this was the premiere for Egypt and the Arab world. It explores the complex reactions of a young sheikh upon learning that pop star Michael Jackson, the idol from his not-too-distant youth, has suddenly died. With a stellar cast, including Ahmed El Fishawy, Maged El Kedwany, Ahmed Malek, and Amina Khalil, Sheikh Jackson looks to be set for greater things, it is Egypt’s entry for the Foreign Film category at the 2018 Oscars.
This was just the first offering in a rich a calendar of screenings, with films from both the region and further afield, linked by the common theme of the search for betterment of the human condition. GFF has made its mark and, we hope, firmly established itself as a leading cultural event that should grow yearly from strength to strength.
A Word with Amr Mansi
CWM: GFF must have been a massive undertaking. Was it a challenge?
AM: Not just a challenge – a huge, huge challenge. But my background experience in planning and organizing the Gouna Squash Tournament was a great help. We started with something small in 2010 and each year it grew until six years later it became the largest squash championship worldwide. We received incredible coverage on international TV channels, it was a big success. It was Bushra Rozza who took the initiative and approached me with the idea of a film festival around a year and a half ago. I liked it and felt it would be an excellent way of assisting the growth of young local and regional filmmakers, as well as showcasing El Gouna, so we approached Naguib Sawiris and Samih Sawiris. We got their whole-hearted support for the idea and that’s how it came about. The logistics involved are immense, with so many local and foreign celebrities and visitors. It has a been a huge learning curve.
CWM: What memories will you treasure from GFF’s First Edition?
AM: I think when I collapsed into bed after the opening night and woke up the next morning to find it all over the news. It was instant fame! The coverage was everywhere. Everyone was commenting on the glamour and the fantastic effort the stars had made to live up to the occasion. What it has reinforced for me is that if you have a dream, don’t lose it. Keep on, and you can achieve anything.