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The road to El Gouna

A stills from ‘Captains of Zaatari’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It has been a mad couple of weeks. Several frantic days at the BFI London Film Festival included the privilege of attending the world premiere of Prasun Chatterjee’s delightful Dostojee, listening to the great and the good of the film world speak, including Trishna filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, the great Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies, Topsy Turvy), The Warrior, Amy and Senna director Asif Kapadia, who had an immersive VR project Laika in the festival, to trans icon Lingua Franca filmmaker Isabel Sandoval who was the head of the first features jury.

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And, while London was winding down, it was more PCR tests and on to another plane to Cairo, a dash to change flights to Hurghada and thence by road to the Red Sea resort town of El Gouna. It was my first time at the El Gouna Film Festival, where, besides writing about the festival for Variety, I had to present an award. The journey began dramatically as, while waiting at Heathrow to board the Cairo flight, my news feed went berserk with images of the event’s main venue, the Festival Plaza, in flames. Pausing only to write a report on the blaze, I boarded the flight. By the time the next day dawned, the organisers had worked miracles and at the glittering opening night ceremony, there was nary a trace of the fire.

A still from ‘Arthur Rambo’

A still from ‘Arthur Rambo’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities denied entry to UK-resident Palestinian filmmaker Said Zagha and in solidarity, fellow Palestinian, Homeland actor Mohammad Bakri decided to cancel his El Gouna trip to accept a career achievement award and deliver a masterclass.

Except during the parties, the pace at El Gouna was unhurried, the stay at a seven star resort was relaxed, and the films were excellent. I finally caught up with Laurent Cantet’s Arthur Rambo, which begins as a slide into the black hole of French social media and segues into an examination of the immigrant experience. Ali El Arabi’s moving documentary Captains of Za’atari, which began life as a project at El Gouna a couple of years ago, documents the experiences of two best friends and aspiring footballers, trapped in a Jordanian refugee camp.

While on refugees, the International Emerging Film Talent Association’s annual Refugee Voices in Film event, in conjunction with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was a collection of several searing short films and a reminder of the privileged life most of us have compared to the lot of the refugees depicted in the film.

A still from ‘Mother!’

A still from ‘Mother!’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The highlight of the festival undoubtedly was a masterclass by American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, director of films such as Pi, Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, The Fountain and his most polarising work, Mother! Aronofsky spoke at length about his craft and then proceeded to dispense advise to the eager crowd of young Egyptian filmmakers, actors and writers present at the Festival Plaza. For the directors, he stressed the necessity of having an original voice and being honest with actors. He advised actors to understand the meaning behind each line of the script and to spend as much time as possible with the director and writer.

The festival was also a great way of catching up with old friends, and making new ones, in a tranquil atmosphere while the Red Sea twinkled in the distance.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 2:01:29 PM |

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