IN VOLATILE times, launching a new film festival is an enterprise that can only be considered an act of defiant optimism.
Thus it is with Eqypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, masterminded by the highly respected critic and programmer of Arab cinema, Intishal Al Timimi.
If the celeb count is anything to go by, the inaugural festival was a resounding success — the likes of Forest Whitaker, Dylan McDermott, Michael Madsen, Emmanuelle Beart and Vanessa Williams along with filmmakers from Egypt and the Arab world were in attendance.
With a mission statement of promoting cultural understanding and fostering an awareness of different cinematic voices, the festival’s substantial programme featured over 70 recent films from around the globe.
The top Golden Star prize went to Scary Mother (pictured), about a 50-year-old housewife who has a wild passion for writing, by Georgian director Ana Urushadze.
No-one in her family supports her need to become a writer and, when she decides to read them the novel she’s secretly been writing, everything starts to collapse. With a a feminist perspective, this drama is a simultaneously simple and sophisticated exploration of redemption and loss.
Franco-Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri won the Silver Star for The Insult, an explosive drama that digs into the history of the Middle East and the longstanding tensions between Palestinians and Lebanese Christians.
It’s currently no. 1 at the Lebanese box office, despite a failed attempt to censor the film. Doueiri was even detained briefly at Beirut airport on his return to Lebanon.
Egyptian director Tamer Ashry’s Photocopy, about twins with opposite personalities — one a go-getting and unromantic Westernised sister, the other studious, principled and waiting for her true love — won the best Arabic feature prize.
Daniel Gimenez Cacho won best actor prize for Zama, the Argentinian film about an 18th-century Spanish colony on the Asuncion coast, while Nadia Kunda was voted best actress for her role in Volubilis, the Moroccan film about a young couple struggling to make a better life for themselves.
The best documentary award went to Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro about African-American writer James Baldwin while other winning films in the documentary strand included Soufra by Thomas Morgan, which follows a group of women in the Bourj el-Barajneh refugee camp south of Beirut who set up a catering business.