Sudan’s “You Will Die at Twenty,” a “call for freedom” in the words of director Amjad Abu Alala, won the Golden Star award for best narrative feature film at the El Gouna Film Festival, one of the Arab world’s top film events. The film previously won the Venice Film Festival’s award for best debut film.
The picture is about a young man, Muzamil, raised to believe that he will die at 20, due to a holy man’s prophecy. Muzamil is torn between the counsel of religious leaders to study the Koran and the advice of a hedonistic father figure to enjoy what little time he has left.
Interviewed at the festival, the director said: “I think all I did was put a mirror up to what I see. It has to do with this absolute faith in the prophecies of holy men.” He had previously told Variety: “The film is just telling Muzamil: You need to decide. You don’t need to let the holy man or your mother or your society decide. You need to live your life.”
Referring to recent protests in his country, he underscored the rebellious subtext to his film. “I’m not going to stay silent while everyone rebels against the state.” The movie’s dedication is “for all the victims of the Sudanese Revolution.”
The award for documentary film was picked up by “Talking About Trees” by Suhaib Gasmelbari, who earlier in the festival was awarded Variety’s Middle East and North Africa Region Talent prize. The pic has as its backdrop the destruction of cinema in Sudan due to a toxic mix of dictatorial government and religious fundamentalism, but front and center are four filmmakers and their passion for making and watching movies.
The Silver Star for narrative film went to Jan Komasa’s “Corpus Christi,” a Polish movie about a delinquent who finds his calling when he poses as a priest in a traumatized community. The film’s Bartosz Bielenia picked up the best actor prize.
Maryam Touzani’s debut feature “Adam” picked up the Bronze Star in the category. The film turns on the life enhancing encounter between Samia, a pregnant, single young woman down from the countryside, and Abla, a widow who has set up a bakery in her home to make ends meet. The pic is Morocco’s entry for the Academy Awards in the international feature film category.
Mounia Meddour’s debut feature “Papicha,” which depicts young women refusing to bow down to fundamentalism in Algeria, was named best Arab narrative film. The pic has been selected by Algeria to represent the country at the Oscars.
The best actress award went to Cairo-based Tunisian actress Hend Sabry for Tunisian director Hinde Boujemaa’s “Noura Dreams,” a drama about a woman who dreams of divorcing her husband who is about to be released from jail.
The festival’s industry section, CineGouna, wrapped with Lebanese director Ely Dagher’s “Harvest” winning the best project in development award. “Harvest” follows a young woman, Jana, who returns to Beirut after having been abroad, but struggles to fit back into her family’s dynamics. Dagher won the short film Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015 with “Waves ’98.”
Another Lebanese director, Remi Itani, won the prize for the best film in post-production with “A Long Breath,” which centers on a man torn between his desire to be pious and the temptations of hedonism.
The festival, located in an upmarket resort by the Red Sea, ran Sept. 19-27.