Being Festival Director of what has become a major event on the global film industry calendar comes with massive responsibilities and calls for a unique mix of adaptability, insight, vision and organizational skills. Instihal Al Tamimi has all that, and more. We extracted him from his hectic schedule for just enough time to get an update on GFF 2020.
CW: This year has presented new, unanticipated challenges for the global film industry. What challenges have you faced putting together of the 4th edition of GFF?
IT: There is no doubt that the social, financial and economic structures around the world have been impacted substantially due to the global pandemic. This has created a new challenge for us, which led us to restructure and reimagine our festival to adapt to the new normal.
We have been thinking deeply about the core value that our festival offers and we’re doing our best to maintain and preserve that. We realized we need to be innovative in order to adapt to current times. We literally had to re-examine our business model and evaluate how we can work to create a safe and productive working environment for our community, staff, organizers and delegates.
With the support of an incredible and capable management team, we are fully reshaping/reimagining this year’s 4th edition to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all. Under the theme, “Keep Dreaming”, the 4th edition of GFF promises to continue its role as a regional catalyst for the development of cinema.
What measures are in place to cope with social distancing requirements?
The wellbeing, health and safety of anyone entering the town of El Gouna is of utmost priority not only to the El Gouna Film Festival (GFF) management team, but to the management team of Orascom Hotels & Development (OHD), the parent and management company of El Gouna. Strict health and safety measures and protocols have been put in place and all staff in Gouna and organizers of events have been trained on these measures.
Can you tell us what’s different about this year’s edition relative to last year’s?
This year’s festival holds a whole new experience as we are fully reshaping the 4th edition to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. In addition to our social distancing protocol, we are reducing the need to come in touch with paper and focusing heavily on adding more digital capabilities to make the festival as paperless as possible this year.
We have built a spectacular outdoor venue called the Festival Plaza, located in the heart of the newly launched, state-of-the-art Gouna Conference & Culture Center (GCCC). The Festival Plaza will be the main festival hub. Festival activities will now take place in a balanced mix of indoor and tailor-made outdoor spaces.
The GCCC will place El Gouna town on the global map as a meeting place for the most important international conferences and cultural events. The GCCC will soon have a music concert hall that can host a 600-piece orchestra and a 2,000-seat conference center. The complex is aimed at creating a landmark and iconic hub for international conferences and cultural events.
Many festivals around the world have been moved online due to Covid-19. Why didn’t you do the same?
The film festival network and the overall infrastructure they offer with critics, juries, industry marketplaces and awards are engineered to take film projects by up-and-coming filmmakers into the mainstream markets. This can’t be done properly at online festivals – and needs the actual infrastructure.
It’s not easy to replace a physical film festival with all its moving parts via an online portal alone. Festivals are not just about screening films –they focus more on targeting film industry professionals than on audiences. So, in a way, they act as a catalyst for distribution networks where a lot of buying and selling of film’s rights take place. Important meetings between filmmakers, producers and distributors are set up to support and develop films that are still on paper. Additionally, festivals also act as a testing ground for new films and its selection is highly competitive. You can be assured of cinematic quality.
We attended the Venice Film Festival earlier this month and they managed to pull it off beautifully having strict safety measures in place. We believe we are more capable to manage GFF this year, especially given the fact that Gouna is a private seaside town in the safe Red Sea zone. We expect all delegates to strictly follow our safety measures so we can show the world.
How will the Audience Award work this year?
This year, we have a special emphasis on making the festival as ‘paperless as possible’. As part of our social distancing protocol, we are reducing the need to come in touch with paper and focusing heavily on adding more digital capabilities for the delegates.
Currently, we are studying various digital options for the voting process of the Audience Award, but nothing is confirmed yet. For us, having these digital capabilities works brilliantly on so many levels, not just for the health situation but also on an environmental level.