El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017 - Hussein Tallal El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017 - Hussein Tallal

El Gouna: Egyptian resort inspires cinema, builds bridges

Tue, Sep. 26, 2017
HURGHADA, Egypt – 26 September 2017: Successfully hosted in a Red Sea resort town that awaits a promising future, El Gouna Film Festival’s (GFF) workshops served as a cultural bridge between Egyptian and international filmmakers where participants and mentors learned from each other.

The visibly dynamic environment of the GFF promised future editions that will voice regional art and humanitarian stories on the international level, as well as bring about partnerships targeting “cinema for humanity,” which is the motto of the festival.

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El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017 - Hussein Tallal
“Most grants target production and directors, primarily. We do not tackle the step before that; scriptwriting, so that needs more attention in the Arab world, not just Egypt,” said Haitham Dabbour, a scriptwriter whose film, “Photocopy,” is competing in GFF. Only Sawiris Foundation for Social Development organizes a screenwriting contest in the entire Middle East, according to Dabbour.

Hence a scriptwriting workshop was organized by GFF and the U.S. State Department’s American Film Showcase (AFS) program, where screenwriters Jeff Stockwell and Richard Tanne deliver the course. Dabbour, a participant in the workshop, said conversations discussing his script in the workshop were dynamic, as Stockwell and Tanne played the roles of authors and producers to pinpoint certain details from all perspectives possible.

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Scripwriters Jeff Stockwell (left) and Richard Tanne - Nour Eltigany
“[The participants] are so talented, it is unbelievable. They have such clear visions of the stories that they are telling; it is coming from such an authentic deep place inside them. I think they are filled with so much hope and positivity, and I think they are really, really great representatives of your country and also other areas in the Middle East,” said Tanne, an award-winning scriptwriter whose "Southside With You" premiered in the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

To be the Cannes of the Middle East

Amr Mansi, the executive director of GFF, expects that El Gouna will be pinned on the global tourist map, and that many more hotels will be built therein. All hotels are already fully booked in the first year of the festival, according to Mansi.

hussein tallal16El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017 - Hussein Tallal

"El Gouna is a self-sufficient town that also has beaches and beautiful nature that can attract any tourist," Mansi told Egypt Today.

For his part, Dabbour hopes El Gouna will be known for both the GFF and its tourist services, much like Cannes is most known for its film festival.

“It was a smart idea, to manipulate a nice place to create a new festival because we needed a strong one… El Gouna is qualified to be a celebratory city for cinema,” Dabbour said.

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Haitham Dabbour, scriptwriter of Photocopy - Nour Eltigany
To be like Cannes Film Festival, however, takes many years, Stockwell emphasized.

Picking up, Tanne said the opening of the festival “was a very good start, and in your first year you are already attracting Forest Whitaker, you are attracting Dylan McDermott, Michael Madsen and other international actors and filmmakers.”

“That actually may be the key. At the core it is Egypt, but then making sure that it is a global enterprise that is bringing in people from all over the world in addition to showing movies; that becomes a cultural exchange between people like us [as] we get to sit down and have a conversation [while] teaching a workshop,” he continued.

hussein tallal8El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017 - Hussein Tallal

Mansi has high hopes for next year, as Euronews is sponsoring the event and several international media outlets are covering it.

"Dylan McDermott told us he is calling his friends who were reluctant to come this year, same thing with Michael Madsen and we also have Oliver Stone; all of them will go back home and talk [about the festival]," he said.

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Amr Mansi, executive director of El Gouna Film Festival - Hussein Tallal
Both Stockwell and Tanne emphasized they are learning a lot from the participants, with Tanne hoping the trainees “think we are as talented as them.” A translation booth is available in the classroom where Arabic, English and French interpretations are handy.

Mansi is also particularly happy with the workshops and the CineGouna Platform, anticipating requests from international filmmakers to shoot in Egypt.

Stockwell, who produced feature credits such as "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" starring Jodie foster and Disney’s “Bridge to Terabithia," is very passionate about teaching that he offered his services to the AFS, which in turn asked him to select another trainer. Tanne said Stockwell’s offer was “an opportunity I could not turn down.”

Although Stockwell has watched Egyptian comedy and recognized that it is appreciated across the Middle East, he said he could not name an Egyptian movie or director, something the GFF may be able to change in the global cinema scene.

Tanne said he knows "The Mummy," “which is not even Egyptian; it is depressing to admit but it is actually one of the reasons that it is so exciting to be here is because one of the participants [in the workshop] is going to be making a list of Egyptian films for us to watch.”

"Do you feel safe in Los Angeles?"

Both Tanne and Stockwell expressed a strong feeling of safety in El Gouna; Stockwell recalled missing the person he was supposed to meet at Hurghada Airport and how easy it was to talk to people who told him where to go.

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El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017- Hussein Tallal
“El Gouna seems very secure locked down and not at all what the stereotypes of Egypt are in America,” Tanne said.

Stockwell, on the other hand, said “one big advantage of El Gouna too is the sense that it is such a welcoming and easy place for people internationally to come, because the reality is, people from different countries do not know what to expect… you will not believe how luxurious and comfortable this is.”

“Growing up in America, of course… I am picturing Egypt, what it would be like, would be very busy, very busy big cities. [El Gouna] is lovely, there is no distraction and it is perfect for doing a workshop… I think this is a wonderful advantage for a festival that hopes to be international and bring people in.”

“It is strange to land in El Gouna, I will say, directly, without having seen any other part of Egypt. It is almost like I’m in a science fiction story because this could be anywhere, El Gouna. This is very similar to Palm Springs or places in California where there are resorts and developments, so it is strange. I know we are in Egypt, I do not feel it yet.”

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El Gouna resort in Hurghada, Egypt in September 2017 - Hussein Tallal

The two scriptwriters are visiting Luxor after the festival for a couple of days, but will not catch the October 22 solar alignment of Abu Simbel Temple. Stockwell was especially looking forward to the visit, as he had already spoken to friends who have been there and told him that he was going to “fall in love” with the place.

Stockwell also had a “joke” to tell.

“I live in Los Angeles but I am from Boston. All my friends in Boston always say ‘do you feel safe in Los Angeles? There is the fires, there is the gangs, there is the drive-by shootings, do you feel safe?’”

“And I am like, yes, I mean, I do not think about that. It is happening, sure, but it is not in the consciousness of my day. And I would say you always feel a little vulnerable when you come to a new place, but everything seems amazing [in El Gouna]."

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