Egyptian actress and singer Bushra Rozza, better known as just Bushra, has made a transition from award-winning actress to film festival organiser. And she has managed to do this while also holding down a successful music career, working as a film producer and mothering two children.
We meet at the El Gouna Film Festival, which took place for the third year in the Red Sea resort city in Egypt, where Bushra, 42, is chief operating officer and one of the co-founders of the event.
In so many ways Bushra is the perfect face for the festival. Throughout her acclaimed career she has built up a following of more than 2.7 million on Instagram. She is accessible and engaging, and a forward-thinking cinephile. For the star, working at El Gouna is in a way similar to acting. "It still stems from the same passion for cinema and love of films," she says. She looks happy, and for good reason. This year's event attracted audience numbers five times that of the first.
The selection at El Gouna, which ended on Friday, was eclectic, featuring plenty of high-class art-house movies alongside big winners from larger film festivals around the world. Parasite, winner of Cannes's Palme d'Or; The Weeping Woman, which won the Venice Film Festival's Venice Days Award; and Lara, which took home three awards at the Czech Republic's Karlovy Vary Film Festival, were screened alongside the best in Arab cinema, including Maryam Touzani's Adam, Lina Alabed's documentary Ibrahim: A Fate to Decide and Oualid Mouaness's 1982. All are auteur-led films questioning society, and those are exactly the kinds of movies Bushra wants people to pay attention to.
“Even the cinema in Egypt at the moment is not in its greatest time in terms of production. The commercial cinema is prevailing, but they’re not the kind of films I want to make,” she says. “I really want the kinds of films that we have in this film festival to prevail in the market as well.”
Bushra offers some insights into why El Gouna was needed and embraced. "In Egypt there was not really any good film festivals. They were just meeting points for some filmmakers," she says in reference to the Cairo International Film Festival, which had stuttered for a decade owing to financial issues and following the Arab uprisings. "It lost touch because of the lack of care from the organisations and associations that were supposed to look after it."
So, she got involved with planning the first El Gouna event. The organisers decided that for it to succeed, they "would go back to the basics" of a film festival. "Why do we have a festival? Why does it happen? Do we just want people to come to a red carpet, wear nice dresses and take nice photos? The problem with most Arab film festivals in the region is that it's all about the stars and the red carpets," she says.
For Bushra, film festivals should "contribute to the industry, help filmmakers and help the movies themselves get seen in the right frame and in the right form". The event's CineGouna Platform aims to do just this. An industry-focused event, it was established to support Arab filmmakers with securing funding, and it is continuing to grow.
Having been to several film festivals as an actor, Bushra knows what she likes. "The smaller events around the world are fascinating because you have time to discuss and watch films. It's easier to meet people and exchange experiences, and buy and sell films," she says. This is something she is aspiring to with El Gouna, and she says this year has been the festival's smoothest yet.
"We are more mature," she says. "We've been through a lot of drama, conflict and struggles, so now we are on more solid ground."
Going forward, she wants El Gouna to encourage more investment in the film business. "Bankers do not see filmmaking in the Arab world as an industry. They don't invest in films as much as concrete."
With that, she’s off. There’s more to do.