Culture

Beirut filmmakers score at Gouna, but Sudan shines

EL-GOUNA, Egypt: The curtain fell on the third edition of El Gouna Film Festival Friday evening with an upbeat award ceremony that saw Beirut filmmakers emerge with three prizes. Ultimately though the evening was a celebration of Sudanese cinema, with the country’s directors taking gold in both the narrative feature and feature-length documentary categories.

Early in the evening, GFF’s FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) jury announced that it was awarding its prize to Oualid Mouaness for his feature-film debut “1982,” a coming-of-age tale recounting an unforgettable day in the life of Wissam, an elementary school student trying to write exams and grabble with first love as the Israeli army was closing in on Beirut.

“My favorite prize,” the writer-director smiled when he reached the microphone. After the ceremony, Mouaness informed The Daily Star that Lebanon intended to nominate “1982” for the Academy Award for best foreign language film.

Later, the jury of the feature-length documentary competition announced that the winner of the El Gouna Star for Best Arab Documentary (and its cash prize of $10,000) was Beirut-based Syrian-Palestinian filmmaker Lina Al Abed. Her feature film debut “Ibrahim - A Fate to Define” combines elements of family biography and cold case investigative journalism, seeking to find what became of her father Ibrahim, an idealistic undercover operative for the Abu Nidal group who went missing in the late 1980s, probably murdered by his comrades.

In the short film contest, Lebanon’s Wassim Geagea took the El Gouna Silver Star for Short Film (and $7,500) for his “Ome.”

The emotional highlight of the evening - not least for the actor’s many fans in the audience - was provoked by the festival’s best actress prize, and the passionate acceptance speech of Cairo-based Tunisian film star Hind Sabri, for her performance in “Noura’s Dream.”

Written and directed by her compatriot Hinde Boujemaa, the film tells the story of a young mother in Tunis who’s fallen into an adulterous relationship in an effort to escape an abusive and criminal husband.

Another high-water mark was reached when the best feature-length documentary prize was collected by Sudan’s Suhaib Gasmelbari for his film “Talking About Trees.” This imaginative and surprisingly comic doc recounts the faltering history of Sudanese cinema from the perspective of a handful of veteran filmmakers, all graduates of European film schools who returned home to build a culture of cinema, only to be thwarted by authoritarian politics.

Gasmelbari called his protagonists to the stage to help him accept the award, provoking waves of ululations from the audience.

More ululations erupted a short time later when Gasmelbari’s countryman Amjad Abu Alala took the stage to accept El Gouna’s Golden Star for Narrative Film (and $50,000) for his debut feature “You Will Die at Twenty,” a lyrical film about a young man’s striving to live past the village holy man’s prophecy of his early demise.

Coming on the heels of Gasmelbari’s win for a picture about an older generation’s pre-empted struggles to build their country’s cinema, Abu Alala’s victory was all the more poetic.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 30, 2019, on page 8.

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