El Gouna Film festival 2017 – Closing Night
Closing night at the El Gouna film Festival was as spectacular as opening night – if not even more sensational. It was clear that everybody had a chance to settle in, enjoy the films and make the most of the beautiful El Gouna. Between the opening night and closing night, 8 days in total, we had films, documentaries and workshops filling up the main venues. These venues being the Abu Tig Marina, Sea cinema and TU Berlin campus. The Workshops mentioned, brought some other big names to El Gouna, that being Oliver Stone and the highly celebrated Forest Whitaker. These workshops allowed people to hear answers to prepared questions as well as to ask questions of their own. I managed to sit in on the Forest Whitaker workshop and the highlight for me was actually seeing Ahmed Malek in the audience asking questions about acting. Ahmed Malek plays one of the younger versions of the main protagonist in Sheikh Jackson. Sheikh Jackson, if you’ve not read the previous article about the opening night of the El Gouna film festival, is nothing short of a fantastic film!
Forest had a number of things to say about his charity, The Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, and the work he is carrying out in South Sudan. When asked about how people respond to him without knowing who he is, he said ” If they don’t know you’re a celebrity, you have to bring a lot more to the table in your personality. They will judge you on this, not on any of the films you’ve acted in.” Funnily enough, this makes one realise we only really love these actors for the people they pretend to be. We have no idea who they really are.
Don’t get me wrong, Forest Whitaker has been a long time favourite actor of mine and many, many other people. So much so that he received a Career Achievement Award at the closing ceremony. This followed a montage of scenes from various movies. The most outstanding, arguably, is his exceptionally convincing portrayal of Id Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland.
Also to grace the stage was actress, singer, dancer and author Vanessa Williams who proudly announced she had been to Egypt 5 times and twice to El Gouna. Simply because she loves it so much! As an actress, she is most known for her role as Wilhelmina Slater in the TV series Ugly Betty. As a singer, she is probably best known for her chart-topping song “Save The Best For Last”. Familiar with the song, I was unaware who the artist was until she decided to sing the first verse and chorus on stage flawlessly and without any music. A truly gifted singer!
She also co-starred in Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mention this because Arnie also shows his face at the El Gouna Film Festival, although only on screen as co-narrator of The Wonders of the Sea 3D. If you don’t know how wonderful the sea is, then you should watch this film as the visuals are absolutely outstanding. The content, however, is poor. With cringe-worthy humour and very little story to follow, it’s only the 3D, 4K footage that makes it worthwhile.
It came time to announce the winners of the various categories. One that stood out was Soufra. Director, Thomas Morgan, had the honour of collecting two awards on the night! Namely, Best Arabic Feature Documentary and the Cinema for Humanity Audience Prize. Upon giving his second speech, he was truly overwhelmed as he tearfully expressed his gratitude to everybody who helped make the film a reality. He was told on countless occasions not to make the film, but he and his team persevered, risking their lives in the Burl El Barajneh refugee camp near Beirut, Lebanon. Soufra revolves around Mariam Shaar, who starts a catering company called Soufra, which means feast in Arabic. This is not the end goal, however as she intends to use the profits to build a children’s centre right in the refugee camp. This story truly lends itself to the film festival’s theme: Cinema for Humanity.
My favourite moment of the night was when Naguib Sawiris gave his speech on the success of the event. Speaking of his brother, Samih, he laughs “It’s the first time we have done a project together as brothers. And it worked. I know it worked because we are still friends.”
Excluding the after parties, the final event of the night was Chinese director, Ai Weiwei’s, Human Flow – a documentary about the refugees fleeing Syria and other parts of the world. After the happy speeches from filmmakers and event coordinators, I don’t believe this film to be the best choice to close the evening as it was very sombre in content. It is well shot and gives great insight into the Refugee crisis, reminding us all that refugees are not statistics, but individuals all trying to better their lives. Most of the festival attendees had left before the film started, but by the time we got to the halfway point there were probably between 50 and 100 audience members left. That is neither here nor there, though, as the festival was a truly magnificent success. Festival director, Intashal Al Timimi, stated in his speech ” we will keep up the momentum of this Festival and we will create our own path without just copying those who have gone before us!”
There is definitely much optimism amongst the festival co-ordinators about the future of El Gouna’s film festivals. And so there should be!
Below is a complete list of all festival winners.
El-Gouna Star for Best Arab Feature Narrative
Photocopy by Tamer Ashry
Bronze Star for Best Feature Narrative Film
Arrhythmia by Boris Khlebnikov
Silver Star for Best Feature Narrative Film
The Insult by Ziad Doueiri
Golden Star for Best Feature Narrative Film
Scary Mother by Ana Urushadze
El-Gouna Star for Best Actress
Nadia Kounda for her role in film Volubilis
El-Gouna Star for Best Actor
Daniel Gimenez Cacho for his role in film Zama
Golden Star for Best Feature Documentary
I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck
El-Gouna Star for Best Arab Feature Documentary
I Have a Picture by Mohamed Zaydan
Silver Star for Best Feature Documentary
Brimstone and Glory by Viktor Jakovleski
Bronze Star for Best Feature Documentary
Mrs Fang by Wang BingEl-Gouna
El-Gouna Star Award for Arab Short Film
Punchline by Christophe M. Saber
Bronze Star for Best Short Film
Mama Bobo by Robin Luc Andelfinger and Ibrahima Saydi
Silver Star for Best Short Film
Merry Go Round by Ruslan Bratov
Golden Star for Best Short Film
Nightshade by Shady El Humus
Mentor Arabia Award for Best Arab Feature Documentary
Soufra by Thomas Morgan
Film Factory Award for Best Short Film
Baghdad’s Photographer by Maged Hamid
Soufra by Thomas Morgan