16 Arabic films to screen at El Gouna Film Festival next month

The festival is scheduled to take place in the coastal Egyptian city from October 14 to 22

The line-up for the El Gouna Film Festival has been revealed.

Sixteen Arabic films will be screening at the festival, which will take place in Egypt’s coastal city of El Gouna from October 14 to 22. With films from Egypt and Lebanon accounting for a lion’s share of the selection, the two countries are set to become the biggest participants of the festival’s fifth iteration.

While the selection is made up of a healthy mix of narratives, documentaries and short films, here we take a look at the eight feature-length works screening at the festival, from a Kafka-esque comedy about an irate father who turns into a chicken to a heart-rending documentary highlighting the plight of inmates with mental illnesses in Lebanon’s Roumieh prison.

‘The Sea Ahead’

Ely Dagher’s 2015 animation Waves '98 made an overnight sensation of the Lebanese filmmaker, winning him the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. So it comes as no surprise that his debut feature The Sea Ahead is turning heads on the international film circuit.

The film, which tells the story of a young woman’s poignant return to Beirut, was nominated for the Golden Camera award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was among the 14 films to receive support from the Red Sea Fund.

The Sea Ahead is in the running for the Feature Narrative Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival.

‘Amira’

Egyptian filmmaker Mohamed Diab’s newest release Amira is a tale of parentage and rebellion, inspired by a news story about Palestinian prisoners in Israel who smuggle their sperm out of jail.

“The moment I read about it, I thought ‘Is this a science fiction film?’. It’s so weird and yet so human. It’s a symbol of survival. To Palestinians, this is an untouched topic,” Diab told The National.

As the film explains, more than 100 children have been conceived in this manner. However, the film uses the smuggled sperm as a springboard into a gripping family melodrama, as its titular character discovers that the incarcerated man she thought to be her father is not her biological parent and sets out to find her origins.

The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and is competing for the Feature Narrative Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival.

‘Feathers’

Omar El Zohairy made history when his absurdist black comedy Feathers won the Grand Prize at the International Critics' Week in Cannes, making it the first Egyptian film to do so.

The film tells the story of a housewife who has to take care of her family after her authoritarian husband is turned into a chicken by magicians at the birthday party of their son, 4.

Feathers will be competing in the Feature Narrative Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival.

‘Casablanca Beats’

Nabil Ayouch’s Casablanca Beats became the first fully Moroccan film to compete at the Cannes Film Festival when it was in the running for the coveted Palme d’Or this year.

Set in Sidi Moumen, a poverty-stricken area on the outskirts of Casablanca, the film tells the story of a group of teenagers who strive to organise a rap concert. The film was selected as the Moroccan entry for Best International Feature Film at the 2022 Academy Awards.

Casablanca Beats is a contender in the Feature Narrative Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival.

‘Costa Brava, Lebanon’

Mounia Akl’s debut feature Costa Brava, Lebanon is a family drama that mirrors the tragic reality that many in Lebanon face today.

The story follows the free-spirited Badri family, led by Soraya (Nadine Labaki) and Walid (Saleh Bakri) who have escaped the toxic pollution of Beirut to set up a new home in the mountains.

The twist comes when the government resolves to put a landfill site right next to their rural retreat, causing their own relationships to fissure.

The film had its world premiere earlier this week at the Venice International Film Festival and will be competing in the Feature Narrative Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival.

‘The Blue Inmates’

This is a documentary by Lebanese filmmaker Zeina Daccache shot in Roumieh prison, the largest and most notorious prison in Lebanon. The film follows a group of inmates who produce a play in a bid to raise awareness about their fellow prisoners who have been incarcerated as a result of their mental illnesses.

The work criticises the Lebanese Penal Code, which stipulates that those deemed “insane” will be incarcerated until they are “cured”.

The Blue Inmates is competing in El Gouna’s Feature Documentary Competition.

‘Captains of Za'atari’

A still from <i>Captains of Zaatari</i> by Ali El Arabi, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

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Egyptian director Ali El Arabi’s documentary Captains of Za'atari tells the story of two teenage Syrian refugees trying to fulfil their dreams of becoming professional footballers.

The documentary’s protagonists are teenagers Mahmoud and Fawzi, who live in the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan. The camp opened in 2012 and at its peak hosted 150,000 Syrian refugees.

The film was nominated for several awards, including the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and is competing in the Feature Documentary Competition at the El Gouna Film Festival.

‘Back Home’

After living abroad for 10 years, Egyptian filmmaker Sara Shazli finds her life plans upended in the face of a global pandemic and returns to her childhood home in Egypt. As she spends time with her father, a man aged 80 buzzing with life and witticisms, Shazli decides to capture the moments they share on film.

Back Home will be competing in the Feature Documentary Competition.

Updated: September 8th 2021, 12:18 PM