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Sylvester Stallone, ‘A Land Imagined’ Honored at El Gouna Film Festival

Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival has wrapped its second edition, with Singaporean director Yeo Slew Hua’s noir title “A Land Imagined” winning the Golden Star, the fest’s top prize, awarded by a jury headed by Oscar-winning Croatian producer Cedomir Kolar (“No Man’s Land”).

The genre pic, shot mostly at night, is about a jaded Singapore cop investigating the disappearance of a Chinese construction worker. It previously won the Locarno Film Festival’s Golden Leopard in August. The El Gouna award carries $50,000 in prize money, to be divided equally between the director and the main producer, Fran Borgia, and his Akanga Film Asia shingle. 

Egyptian director A.B. Shawky’s unconventional road movie “Yomeddine” won Best Arab Narrative Feature award and split honors for the fest’s Cinema for Humanity audience prize with “Another Day of Life,” an animation-documentary hybrid about the experiences of war journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski in 1970s Angola. This Spanish-Polish co-production is directed by Raul de la Fuente and Damian Nenow.

Shawky was also honored during El Gouna with the Variety MENA Talent of the Year Award. “Yomeddine,” in which a middle-aged man raised in a leper colony embarks on a journey across Egypt with a sidekick and a donkey, is Shawky’s first feature and is Egypt’s candidate for the foreign-language Oscar.

British photographer-turned-director Richard Billingham’s cine-memoir “Ray and Liz” won the Gouna Silver Star, while “The Heiresses” by Paraguay’s Marcello Mattinessi won the competition’s Bronze Star. 

Acting honors went to Poland’s Joanna Kulig, star of Pavel Pawlikovsky’s “Cold War,” and to Tunisia’s Mohamed Dhrif for his performance as the determined father in Mohammed Ben Attia’s ISIS-themed “Dear Son.”

U.S. titles fared well in the documentary competition, where Participant Media’s ecological doc “Aquarela,” which is both an ode to and a wake-up call about water, took that section’s Gold Star.

Prizes for festival entries totaled more than $220,000, the same amount as last year. However, the fest more than doubled the cash prizes, now totaling $175,000, for Arabic projects at its Cinegouna co-production market, where industry presence was strong. Attending were Berlin’s newly appointed artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, Tribeca topper Frederic Boyer, and Sundance programmer Heidi Zwicker.

Following the unexpected shuttering last December of the Dubai fest and market after 14 editions, El Gouna is certainly better-positioned to play a prominent role as an Arab film industry driver and bridgehead into the Middle East for quality international films.

The closing ceremony last Friday in the Red Sea resort’s open-air auditorium drew a mix of Hollywood and Arabic stars, including Sylvester Stallone, who was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award, Owen Wilson, Patrick Dempsey, Clive Owen, Egypt’s Yousra and Yasmine Sabri, and Tunisia’s Dora Zarrouck. 

Stallone paid tribute onstage to Egypt, which he was visiting for the first time, for its “fantastic history, glory, mystery” and “its very romantic-sounding name,” before adding: “I will be back.”

Bankrolled mostly by Egyptian telecom billionaire Naguib Sawiris and directed by prominent Arab cinema programmer Intishal Al Timini, the ambitious new event ran into a political snag at its outset when Los Angeles-based Arab actor Ali Suliman, who plays terrorist Mousa Bin Suleiman in the Amazon Prime Video TV series “Jack Ryan,” was barred by Egyptian authorities from entering the country.

Suliman, who is a Palestinian born in Israel, was supposed to be a member of El Gouna’s main jury. He was reportedly carrying an Israeli passport and a Palestinian identification card. Sources say the incident, which the festival declined to comment on, was caused by a combination of an overzealous Egyptian border bureaucrat and the fact that fest organizers failed to anticipate the problem. Syrian director Soudade Kaadan, whose feature “The Day I Lost My Shadow” played in competition, was also denied entry into Egypt, a reminder of how politics can interfere with the film industry in the region.

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