Egyptian film ‘Feathers’ wins best Arab feature at El Gouna Film Festival

‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic’ and ‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’ each pick up two top awards

Egyptian director Omar El Zohairy’s Feathers won the Best Arab Narrative Film at the closing ceremony of El Gouna Film Festival on Friday night, to rousing applause and cheers.

The dark comedy about a woman’s struggles after her domineering husband is turned into a chicken in a magic trick gone wrong, caused a stir during the festival on Egypt’s Red Sea coast. Following its red carpet screening earlier in the week, some alleged the film portrayed Egypt in an unfairly negative light.

“I feel so grateful. I’m so glad I’m getting this award in my country,” El Zohairy told The National after the ceremony.

The fifth edition of the festival that opened last Thursday included 75 international and regional feature narratives, short films and documentaries from 44 countries, with eight world and two international premieres.

Sixteen films competed in the feature narrative category, 10 in the documentary competition and 23 in the short films section. Together with the Cinema for Humanity audience award and the inaugural El Gouna Green Star Award, cash prizes totalled $224,000.

The winning Golden Star awards in the three main categories of Feature Narrative, Documentary and Short Film went to Finnish director Teemu Nikki’s The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, Life of Ivanna by Renato Borrayo Serrano, and Katia from Russian director Andrey Natotcinskiy.

Within each category, there are bronze, silver and gold star awards, as well as a specific Arab film award.

American film producer Rob Allyn, president of the feature narrative jury, presented the award for Best Arab Narrative film. He described Feathers as “one director’s dystopian vision of a global dilemma, which is found on every corner of the earth expressed in the distinct hyper-reality of haunting imagery and shattering sound design.”

Upon accepting the award, El Zohairy said he “could not have imagined that there would be so much attention to something I created from my heart”.

“I’m an Egyptian director. I lived here and grew up here. I graduated from the Higher Institute of Cinema in Cairo,” El Zohairy said.

He thanked all those who supported him for the film, including the Egyptian Ministry of Culture and its Minister Ines Abdel-Dayem.

Feathers was the 2021 Cannes Critics’ Week Grand Prix winner and is El Zohairy’s first feature film.

Feature Narrative Golden Star winner The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic is about a blind man in a wheelchair who is in love with a woman he has never met. He decides to go visit her, completely on his own, facing enormous challenges along the way.

Called “a spellbinding tour de force” by Allyn, the film won the top prize of $50,000. It had received the Audience Award at the 2021 Venice Film Festival.

Lead actor Petri Poikolainen won the El Gouna Star for Best Actor for what Allyn called “his visionary performance” that “takes us with him on a man’s extreme focused journey to hell and back”.

Maya Vanderbeque won the Best Actress award for her role as a mother in Playground, a Belgian film about bullying.

Egyptian director Ali El Arabi’s Captains of Za’atari won Best Arab Documentary film. Mahmoud and Fawzi, the Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s Za’atari camp who star in the film, were able to attend the festival and accompany the filmmakers on stage.

“This award is for Mahmoud and Fawzi and every refugee in the world whose status as a citizen is taken away through no fault of their own,” El Arabi said.

Documentary Film Golden Star winner Life of Ivanna follows a mother of five children living in the Arctic region of Siberia. It won Best International Documentary film at the 2021 Zurich Film Festival.

In the short film category, Egyptian director Ahmed Abdelsalam's Cai-Ber won Best Arab Short Film. The film revolves around a young woman’s disturbing last night in Cairo before leaving on a one-way ticket to Berlin.

The Cinema for Humanity audience award, presented by El Gouna Film Festival founder Naguib Sawiris, went to Ostrov – Lost Island by Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop. The documentary tells the story of the inhabitants of the island of Ostrov in the Caspian Sea, abandoned by the Russian state.

Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon won the inaugural El Gouna Green Star Award for raising awareness on issues related to the environment. She also won the Fipresci award for Best Debut Film.

The feature, starring Nadine Labaki, is about a free-spirited family that has escaped the pollution of Beirut to a home in the mountains, but find a rubbish landfill unexpectedly built right next to them.

Outside the film awards, Palestinian actor-director Mohammad Bakri was honoured with a Career Achievement Award in absentia. He had cancelled his trip in protest of the deportation of compatriot director Said Zagha.

Palestinian director May Odeh, whose film 200 metres won three awards at last year’s El Gouna Film Festival, received the honour on his behalf. She lamented the fact that she had to do the same for 200 metres lead actor Ali Suliman last year.

The people who got the biggest standing ovation of the night had nothing to do with the film industry – they were the firefighters, security staff, ambulance workers and others who helped contain a fire on the eve of the festival and worked overnight to fix the damage.

Samih Sawiris, the founder of El Gouna, invited four of them on stage as sped-up footage of the rebuilding effort showed on the big screen.

Organisers announced the sixth edition of the festival will take place from Thursday, October 13 to Friday, October 21, 2022.

El Gouna Film Festival 2021 full list of winners :

Feature Narrative

- Best Arab Narrative Film ($20,000): Feathers by Omar El Zohairy

- Bronze Star ($15,000): Captain Volkonogov Escaped by Aleksey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova

- Silver Star ($25,000): Sundown by Michel Franco

- Golden Star ($50,000): The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic by Teemu Nikki

- Best Actor: Petri Poikolainen in The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic

- Best Actress: Maya Vanderbeque in Playground

Feature Documentary

- Best Arab Documentary Film ($10,000): Captains of Za’atari by Ali El Arabi

- Bronze Star ($7,500): Sabaya by Hogir Hirori

- Silver Star ($15,000): Ostrov – Lost Island by Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop

- Golden Star ($30,000): Life of Ivanna by Renato Borrayo Serrano

Short Film

- Best Arab Short Film ($5,000): Cai-Ber by Ahmed Abdelsalam

- Bronze Star ($4,000): On Solid Ground by Jela Hasler

- Silver Star ($7,500): Holy Son by Aliosha Massine

- Golden Star ($15,000): Katia by Andrey Natotcinskiy

Cinema for Humanity Audience Award ($20,000)

- Ostrov – Lost Island by Svetlana Rodina and Laurent Stoop

El Gouna Green Star Award ($10,000)

- Costa Brava, Lebanon by Mounia Akl

Netpac Award

- Special Mention: Once Upon a Time in Calcutta by Aditya Vikram Sengupta

- Best Asian Film: Captain Volkonogov Escaped by Aleksey Chupov and Natalya Merkulova

Fipresci Award

- Best Debut Film: Costa Brava, Lebanon by Mounia Akl

Khaled Bichara Award for Egyptian Independent Filmmakers

- Adel by Dina Eleleimy

Updated: October 23rd 2021, 11:27 AM