EL-GOUNA, Egypt: The Red Sea coast’s most ambitious film event wound down over the weekend by handing out awards to its competition films, as well as development and production funds for promising projects from the Middle East and North Africa. Lebanese titles were relatively light on the ground at the second edition of El-Gouna Film Festival, but it proved a productive event for the country’s filmmakers nevertheless.
Staged Saturday, the GFF’s closing ceremony saw the unveiling of its Cinema for Humanity Audience Awards, new to this second edition, as well as juried prizes for the narrative feature, feature-length documentary and shorts categories.
In all, 17 prizes were distributed, ranging from cash-free nods to the grand prize of $50,000.
Two Lebanese films competed in the documentary contest, with Cyril Aris’ “The Swing,” (“Al-Margoha”) taking the GFF’s bronze star for documentary film ($7,500).
The film recounts a traumatic period in the lives of the filmmakers’ elderly grandparents, who had just lost a daughter. The poignancy of the loss was heightened by their children’s decision to not tell one grandparent what had happened.
Like the GFF’s juried contests, which set aside prizes for best Arab film, the new audience awards (worth $10,000 apiece) were also distributed to Arab and international titles.
The first Cinema for Humanity Audience Award went to Raul De La Fuente and Damian Nenow’s animated feature “Another Day of Life.” This adaptation of a book of the same title by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski recounts his time working in Angola, a country then ravaged by civil war.
The Arab recipient of the GFF’s first audience award was A.B. Shawky’s “Yomeddine.” The sentimental favorite of GFF’s second edition, Shawky’s is a heart-warming road movie following a former leper and an orphan boy as they “return home” to Upper Egypt, where they both recover something of their origins.
Each of the three juried contests awarded bronze, silver and gold stars to competition films, regardless of nationality, as well as best Arab film.
The shorts contest saw the best Arab short film prize ($5,000) go to “Eyebrows,” by Egypt’s Tamer Ashry. The golden star for best short film ($15,000) went to a Juanita Onzaga’s Colombia-Belgium short, “Our Song to War.”
In the docs contest, “Of Fathers and Sons,” Talal Derki’s film about family life in the Idlib household of a Nusra Front fighter, walked away with both the silver star for documentary ($15,000) and best Arab documentary film ($10,000).
The gold star for documentary film ($30,000) went to a completely different species of documentary, Victor Kossakovsky’s “Aquarela.”
Without voice-over or any obvious “story,” Kossakovsky has crafted a devastatingly beautiful document of human civilization’s precarious relationship with water, whose power is all the more pronounced in the age of climate change.
Not surprisingly, “Yomeddine” was called back to the stage to accept the best Arab narrative film prize ($20,000). GFF’s gold star for narrative film went to Singaporean director Siew Hua Yeo for his feature “A Land Imagined.” Stylish and rough around the edges, the film blends police procedural with documentary-style advocacy of migrant workers’ rights, online culture and a dash of mysticism.
Lebanese filmmakers were a more prominent force in the CineGouna Platform Awards, which saw some $220,000 in funds dispersed to worthy projects. The platform’s juried prize, the CineGouna SpringBoard Awards for film projects in development and postproduction (worth $5,000 apiece), were handed to two projects “1982” by Lebanese director Oualid Mouaness and “Embodied Chorus” by Lebanese director Mohamed Sabbah.
“1982” was awarded a further $10,000 from Creative Media Ventures and $15,000 from GFF.
GFF also gave “Embodied Chorus” an additional $15,000.
Also from Lebanon, Sarah Kaskas received a $5,000 prize from The Cell Post Production for her project “Underdown.”
“Barzakh,” a project by Palestinian director Laila Abbas, was also well-received, winning $10,000 from Arab Radio & Television, $10,000 from Cedars Art Production (Sabbah Brothers), and $10,000 award from O3 Productions (MBC Group). Further development and production funds were distributed to projects from Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia and Palestine.
For further details on GFF’s winning films, see elgounafilmfestival.com.