El Gouna Film Festival
The Opening Night
The first night of the much anticipated El Gouna Film Festival was truly something to behold. The atmosphere, absolutely electric, with everybody dressed to the nines made it a night to remember! And a very windy night it was! The presenters, speakers and singers did a fabulous job of holding their patience while their dresses and hair were blown in every direction. Nothing seemed to dull the excitement and pride of anybody on that stage and the atmosphere was even more electric as Fabrica, an Egyptian band, performed Egyptian and international film songs.
We had the cream of the crop of Egyptian actors making their way down the red carpet and decorations to match any aged film event. Considering this is El Gouna’s first ever film festival, there was certainly no expense spared to make it a smashing debut! Techincal problems at any event of this size are almost inevitable and there were a few. But nothing too serious. Other than a microphone dropping out and one of the side screens losing it’s picture, the event’s opening night was a great success. We were fortunate enough to have speeches from El Gouna film festival founders Samih Sawiris and Naguib Sawiris, as well as festival director Intishal Al Tamimi.
The night paid homage to some great names in film. International stars Dylan McDermott, Michael Madsen and Emmanuelle Béart were given special mention. The legend Michale Madsen managed to give a few words from the stage microphone which was at about half his height. With a voice that he must have found in a rusted canon, he coined a memorable phrase saying “Film rewards it workers with a sort of immortality”.
Arguably, the most heartwarming moment of the night was the first mention of Egyptian acting veteran Adel Imam. The whole audience gave a very subtle, yet awestruck gasp when his face appeared on the screen. He received a Career Achievement Award but the true teller of how great his on screen career has been was how his peers spoke of him. Before he received his award, a montage paid special tribute to him. This montage was made up of his own film snippets as well as interviews in which actors including Ahmed Helmy, Menna Shalaby, Ragaa El Gedawy and many others expressed their appreciation of the film heavyweight! The award, handed to him by Naguib Sawiris and Youssara as well as two, yes two, standing ovations for this man show just how great his contribution to film has been!
Lebanese film critic Ibrahim Al-Arisa also received a Career achievement award for his contributions to film in the Arab region over the last 50 years!
The stage was cleared of its decorations and….Fireworks! To mark the opening night of the film festival, we were all treated to a very big, very near and very loud fireworks display. That without any warning! A few people were raised an inch or two out of their seats and that was before the big ones were ignited. There were some very anxious gasps as the firework embers drifted too close to the flammable drapes surrounding the screen. Needless to say, there were thankfully no fires.
As the opening film, Sheikh Jackson, began, we were to deal with one more teething problem as there was a big shadow over the screen which made it difficult to make out what was happening in the film – particularly in the darker scenes. Somebody had to insist that the film be stopped, the offensive lights be turned off and the film be started from the beginning. And rightly so! It would have been a sin to rob this film in any way of its workmanship.
Sheikh Jackson. Where do we begin to describe a piece of art? A phenomenal piece with a story that each of us can relate to in some way! The acting was out of this world, especially that of Maged El Kedwany who plays the main protagonist’s father. His role, although maybe a difficult one, was executed without flaw and with absolute precision!
Now, the logline presented for this film is “An Islamic cleric has a crisis of faith when he hears the news that his childhood idol, Michael Jackson, has died.” This logline although 100% accurate, does not make any hint of what the viewer will experience and feel in this 93 minutes of expert filmmaking. Prepare yourself, if you have not seen the film, for something truly amazing. Truth be told, this is also Egypt’s submission for Foreign Language Film Award of the 90th Annual Academy Awards!
So ends a fantastic opening night at this week-long festival. The first of its kind in El Gouna, it is doing a fabulous job of commemorating actors old and new, bridging the gap between Arab and international film while putting Arab film on the map in a big way!