by Mahmoud Fouly
HURGHADA, Egypt, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival (GFF) aspires to be a destination of Arab and international movie stars and filmmakers, GFF Director Intishal al-Tamimi said in an interview with Xinhua.
Scheduled for Sept. 22-29 at the Red Sea resort town of El-Gouna under the slogan of "Cinema for Humanity," the GFF screens some 69 films from around 40 countries, including 16 feature films, 18 short films and 12 long documentaries, in addition to 19 films outside the official competition and four in a special program.
"The town is brightened by the festival and the earnest, high quality work and preparation, as it aspires to make the GFF a fixed annual gathering of Arab and international movie stars and filmmakers," said the GFF chief.
Tamimi, a 63-year-old Iraqi national and a well-known figure in the regional film industry, said that the GFF is so ambitious despite the challenges of lacking sufficient facilities and being held in a newly-constructed town with only three theatres specially built for the festival.
"There is not a large screening venue for the festival activities, so we initiated the idea of installing a large screen in the open air, facing the challenges of sound quality, convenient height and suitable seats," Tamimi continued, adding, "I believe we have succeeded in overcoming these challenges well."
Most of the GFF senior and junior organizers are young men and women, which Tamimi explained it was intentionally meant to cope with the novelty and ambition of the fast-expanding town of El Gouna, adjacent to world famous Hurghada resort city of Egypt's Red Sea province.
During the opening ceremony, the GFF awarded superstar Adel Imam, top comedian in Egypt and the Arab world, with the Career Achievement Award and it plans to honor international superstar Forest Whitaker at the closing gala.
"A festival does not honor an artist but it is the artist that honors the festival," Tamimi told Xinhua, stressing that the participation of distinguished Egyptian stars like Imam and Yousra, Arab stars like Hend Sabry and Hiam Abbass, and international stars like Whitaker and Dylan McDermott shows confidence in the festival and its staff.
"It asserts that the festival is heading in the right direction," he said.
The newly-born festival has opened with Egyptian movie "Sheikh Jackson" for promising filmmaker Amr Salama. It also screens the opening film of Spain's San Sebastian Film Festival "Submergence" for veteran German director Wim Wenders and Argentinean film "Zama" for auteur Lucrecia Martel that has recently been screened in Venice, New York, Toronto and London film festivals.
"More than 70 percent of the features screened at the GFF are two months old and they are all strong, modern and good movies," said the GFF director.
The GFF holds several cinematic activities to encourage young filmmakers and screenwriters including "Tayarah" workshop for online-based short films, which has received more than 700 short film projects that have been narrowed down to five before the festival kicked off.
Although the GFF is mainly funded by private sector sponsors with its main co-founders are two Egyptian business tycoons Naguib Sawiris and his brother Samih Sawiris, the Ministry of Tourism partly helped in the finance due to the event's assistance in refreshing the country's tourism sector that has been suffering over the past few years.
Tamimi, co-founder of Arab Film Festival of Rotterdam in 2001 and director of Arab programming at latest Abu Dhabi Festival, said that the GFF is not intended to be a competitor with Cairo International Film Festival, Egypt's major film gala that has been held since 1976.
He stressed that both are meant to enrich the cinema industry in the country.