GFF director Intishal el Tamimi looks back at the festival’s groundbreaking journey and shares his goals for consolidating its presence on the Arab and international cinema scene.
In 2017 the dream of El Gouna Film Festival dream came true and its first edition kicked off, and year after year the newly born festival became bigger and bigger.
Today, and after five years of continuous success, the international festival has positioned itself not not only as one of Egypt’s most important cinematic events, but as a platform for international cinema.
One of the men behind the success is GFF director Intishal el Tamimi, and at this year’s edition Egypt Today sat down with him for the back story to the five-year journey.
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when talking about the fifth edition of El Gouna Film Festival?
Continuity is the first thing that comes to my mind when I talk about the fifth edition of El Gouna Festival. Most of the serious cinematic projects in the Arab region were not able to withstand the force majeure. Therefore, when a massive project concerned with cinematic culture continues with controls that are consistent with the traditions of the most prestigious international and Arab film festivals since its establishment until now, this is definitely a remarkable sign.
How would you position El Gouna Film Festival on the international cinema map after five years?
Most of the important international festivals started more than 70 years ago in cities such as Cannes, Locarno, Carlovy Vary and Sundance. And even though they are not big cities or capitals, they managed to consolidate their presence over the years to reach their present renowned position. I imagine that El Gouna Festival over five years has been able to establish itself as a very important film festival among international festivals in the Arab region.
What distinguishes El Gouna Film Festival?
El Gouna Film Festival has its own attractiveness and effectiveness comparable to Arab festivals that are a quarter or half a century old. The vital part of any festival is its ability to progress, not retreat and not stand still, a feat that was achieved by El Gouna Festival and the credit goes to the ambition and passion of the GFF team.
Are you satisfied with what El Gouna Film Festival has achieved so far?
I am very satisfied with the international position we have reached during such a short period of time; today the cinematic community knows a lot about El Gouna Film Festival and El Gouna as a city. What I hoped for in the fifth edition is to maintain the same passion we started with the first edition, because it is our safety valve and this does not conflict with our increased organizational capacity and our huge work team, which has become more effective, knowledgeable and experienced.
Why did GFF management decide to honor late veteran Polish director and screenwriter Krzysztof Kieslowski?
There is definitely a tendency towards Egyptian and Arab cinema as it is taking over the largest area of the festival because GFF is an Egyptian and Arab festival, but at the end of the day it is important not to forget that it is also an international festival in the Arab region. That is why our programs are diverse, from honoring Onsi Abu Seif to Fellini, from Ihsan Abdel Quddous and Youssef Chahine to Krzysztof Kieslowski. This year, we celebrate Kieslowski who is one of the cinema masters, who is very influential at the global level and who is appreciated in the Arab world. Another factor that made us decide to honor him is the restoration of a number of his films by a French company. For any film festival, there is a constant interest and desire to provide rare opportunities for its audience to see these restored films on the big screen.
Why did you choose to grant Egyptian star Ahmed Elsakka and acclaimed Palestinian filmmaker Mohammed Bakri the Career Achievement Award this year?
In previous editions we celebrated comedic cinema and this year we decided to celebrate action cinema. In general, I imagine that in Egypt in particular, there are dozens of artists who deserve to be honored, and there are many reasons to honor each one of them. Ahmed Elsakka is a beloved actor, and through him as an action icon we salute the action cinema but there are dozens of other justifications for his choice. In the same context the festival decided to honor the Palestinian star Mohammed Bakri, not only for being a pioneer in Palestinian cinema, but also for being one of the most prominent Arab filmmakers. Bakri is a film and theater director and actor, and he is one of the few Arab actors who has a strong presence on the international cinema scene.
How else was this edition different?
The fifth edition witnessed the addition of new competitions, such as the Green Star Award. For the first time this year we had a jury for its films. We had five films related to environmental issues in this edition’s program. The idea was launched last year, through a symposium that included a screening of a film, and it has been implemented starting from 2021 and will continue in the future.
Tell us more about Sunbird Stories and the Khaled Bichara Award
This year, we hosted the Sunbird Stories which will support a group of short films concerned with children and youth, and in the next three years they will present their prizes in their final workshop, within the activities of El Gouna Film Festival.
The Khaled Bichara competition was developed this year to be specialized in short film projects, where we reached 120 Egyptian short films. In my opinion, the competition is one of the great and important additions because it allowed the festival to establish new relationships with a cinematic community that had difficulty in reaching El Gouna Festival.