EL-GOUNA, Egypt: The Arab world’s youngest competitive film festival launched its second edition Thursday evening, with a glittery ceremony at the resort village’s Marina Theatre. Raya “Scoop With Raya” Abirached was the emcee of the event, in which El-Gouna Film Festival handed out Career Achievement Awards to renowned Egyptian filmmaker Daoud Abdel Sayed and Dora Bouchoucha, the Tunisian producer who has helped develop dozens of critically acclaimed North African films over the years.
U.K. actor Clive Owen was also called to the stage for an award.
“Really excited to receive this. Omar Sharif was one of my favourite actors,” Owen told the audience, grinning, “and I want to congratulate whoever put all this together. It’s an amazing job.”
GFF is a young festival that aspires to punch well above its weight. Co-founded by Orascom’s Naguib and Samih Sawiris, it shares the Egyptian stage with the venerable Cairo International Film Festival, whose 40th edition in November will be helmed for the first time by 43-year-old producer Mohamed Hefzy – but in style and substance GFF projects a different heritage.
In its exclusive seaside location, solvent competitions – showcasing international and regional titles in feature-length fiction, feature-length documentary and short film categories – bolstered by a noncompetitive selection of recent films gleaned from major international festivals and a retrospective-style special section, GFF emulates the now-expired festivals in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
GFF director Intishal al-Timimi is a veteran administrator of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. GFF’s objectives are “to create a lineup with a balance between acclaimed and awarded films, and to secure certain titles to premiere in the festival,” Timimi said.
“All films participating in the second edition of GFF were produced in 2018, and their screening in the festival marks their Arab premiere.”
Over the next week or so, GFF will project 80 films. Its competition program will screen 15 features, 12 feature-length docs and 23 shorts, awarding prize moneys totaling $224,000. New to the second edition is the “Cinema for Humanity” audience award. The feature film competition jury comprises a variety of personalities and industry figures – Palestinian actor Ali Suliman (absent from the opening ceremony), Egyptian actor Mona Zaki, Moroccan director Ahmed El Maanouni, Carlo Chatrian, the newly appointed director of the Berlin International Film Festival, Croatian producer Cedomir Kolar, Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi, film programmer Ally Derks and Mike Pandey, a three-time “Green Oscar”-winning filmmaker from India.
Another feature that betrays GFF’s genealogy is its industry wing – CineGouna SpringBoard and CineGouna Bridge, with panel discussions, master classes and workshops targeting projects by young filmmakers from Egypt and the Arab world.
Eighteen titles have been selected for this year’s platform – 12 in development and six in postproduction – culled from 135 submissions. Last year CineGouna distributed $60,000 in awards to winning projects. This year the pot has swelled to $150,000.
For the second year, the Variety MENA Talent of the Year award will be presented at GFF. This year’s recipient will be Egyptian writer-director A.B. Shawky, whose debut feature “Yomeddine” was selected to compete at Cannes this year, where it won the Francois Chalais Prize.
“GFF started collaborating with Variety at the festival’s inaugural round,” Timimi said. “This collaboration was ... achieved through mutual work on several activities, [including] the Variety MENA Talent of the Year Award. ... Last year, the award was granted to Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, whose film ‘The Insult’ was later nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language film.
“[‘Yomeddine’] is Egypt’s submission to compete for best foreign language film at the 91st Academy Awards,” he added.
El-Gouna Film Festival continues through Sept. 28.