I was saddened to read the recent statement issued by the management of the El Gouna Film Festival announcing the cancellation of this year’s festival, planned for mid-October, due to what it described as “current global challenges.”
I imagine that this sudden cancellation will bring relief to those who over the years have seen nothing in the festival except the red carpet, controversial outfits, extravagant opening and closing ceremonies, and lots of jewelry.
But in fact the media’s focus (to the point of obsession) on these aspects of the festival has entrenched a negative and provocative image in people’s minds, to the extent that the festival has come to be seen more as an occasion for the wearing of extravagant costumes than as an international cultural event to be proud of and one at which to watch international films, receive international stars, directors, and producers, celebrate the heritage of Egyptian cinema, honour our great artists, and perpetuate the memory of departed giants.
Cancelling any artistic, literary, or cultural festival is unfortunate whatever the circumstances because it disrupts a channel for the dissemination of art and creativity, wastes an opportunity to learn about new cultural and intellectual trends around the globe, and deprives Egyptian art of an opportunity to break into the world scene.
If we really want Egyptian cinema to regain the position that it occupied in previous decades, then this will not be achieved by reminiscing about the past or looking nostalgically at film posters from the fifties and sixties. Instead, it means venturing into global competition and encouraging creativity and cultural activity, even if this might mean tolerating some silly behaviour and extravagant costumes.
On the other hand, limiting one’s gaze to the extravagance that necessarily surrounds any international film festival obscures an economic reality that is no less important than the cultural one. Cinema is an industry that employs large numbers of people, not only in artistic production, but also in terms of the provision of equipment, services, costumes, food, security, and supplies of all kinds, all of which provide job opportunities and support the economy.
When an international festival is held in Egypt, whether in El Gouna or in Cairo, this means increased demand for hotels, transport, restaurants, apartments, and the whole range of tourism services. Moreover, an international festival brings free advertising to the country and attracts the attention and curiosity of millions around the world who will see photographs of their favourite stars appearing in front of Egyptian landmarks.
As for the belief that cancelling the El Gouna Festival this year will be respectful to ordinary people’s feelings and avoid provoking them in the light of the present harsh economic conditions, in my opinion this risks having the opposite effect because the real economic impact of any such cancellation would be the loss of job opportunities, tourism, and foreign currency, all of which we desperately need.
Whatever the real reasons and justifications for cancelling this year’s festival, I hope that there will be room for this decision to be reviewed and that the authorities will intervene to support this cultural event of world importance that our neighbouring countries are seeking to imitate.
I hope that we will all stand in solidarity with the festival and its management because the loss of the opportunity to organise an international festival that is well established and well recognised is a loss for the country, tourism, the economy, and the arts.
This article also appears in today’s edition of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm (23 June).
A version of this article appears in print in the 23 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.