Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The red and the grey

Egypt’s first private film festival was a rollercoaster ride. Soha Hesham was there till the end 

Scary Mother

The first round of El Gouna Film Festival (22-29 September) closed last Friday with a sumptuous awards ceremony. Scary Mother, which festival-goers had been recommending to each other, won El Gouna’s grand prix, the Golden Star. 

The debut of Georgian filmmaker Ana Urushadze, who is the daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Zaza Urushadze (best known for his 2013, Oscar-nominated Tangerines), it won the Best First Feature and the Youth Jury award at Locarno International Film Festival as well as the Cineuropa and the Heart of Sarajevo awards at Sarajevo Film Festival. The 103-minute feature benefits from excellent cinematography by Mindia Esadze and music by Nika Pasuri, making a grey, cold Tbilisi reflect the inner life of the heroine, Manana, intensely and almost silently performed by Nato Murvanidze. The whole cast’s understated performance helps the 20-something director present her powerful poetic vision in an aesthetic piece with a nod to the fantastical.

Manana, a mother in her 50s, lives with her family in a small apartment in a tower block in Tbilisi. A pale, depressed figure, Manana is obviously in the throes of some crisis. So when she announces that she has started working on a book her husband Anri (Dimitri Tatishvili) — who has been criticising her appearance and urging her to look after herself — expresses support. Her whole life Manana has sacrificed her dream of a literary career for the sake of her family, but the dull domestic routine has been her undoing. In her first novel, which she neglects her household duties to write, Manana reveals all, speaking of sex and the life of the imagination. Her work is powerful — so much so that when she sends the manuscript anonymously to her father Jarji (Avtandil Makharadze), a literary translator, the man declares in his mechanical, post-tracheotomy voice, “The text is ingenious and obscene at the same time.” Her friend Nurki (Ramaz Ioseliani), the owner of a stationary shop in the neighbourhood, is also impressed. Declaring the book a masterpiece, he is convinced of her talent and keen on seeing her published and celebrated.


That is how Nurki comes to be present when Manana finally gathers up the courage to read extracts to her family; they both know the work won’t be artistically appreciated, but they don’t quite anticipate the response. Anri flares up; he forces Nurki to leave and Manana to burn the manuscript. Unable to tell the difference between obscenity and pornography, fantasy and autobiography, Anri is ill-equipped for what is to come. He is terrified by Manana’s nightmares of being the Philippine monster Manananggal, a female vampire, especially when she shows him evidence of this alternate reality in their own house. To Anri’s outrage, Manana rebels against the patriarchy and leaves the house and stays in Nurki’s shop, where he has set up a small, red-painted room for her — a Lynchian contrast with the prevailing lack of colour. But what starts out as a feminist film turns into an individual’s search into a surreal search for identity as Manana rediscovers night-time Tiblisi in her Manananggal guise. The final act is a sobering confrontation with her father in which all the family secrets are finally revealed.



Among those honoured at the closing ceremony was Forest Whitaker, who received a Career Achievement Award. Whitaker has won over 50 major prizes including an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for his portrayal of former Ugandan president Idi Amin in Kevin Macdonald’s The Last King of Scotland (2006). He also won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his role in Clint Eastwood’s Bird (1988), and the Career Achievement Award at the 2013 Abu Dhabi Film Festival. As well as directing six films, most recently First Daughter in 2004, he has participated in over 120, including Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986), Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986), Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002) and Rachid Bouchareb’s Two Men in Town (2014).

In a press conference on the fringe of the festival, founder Naguib Sawiris announced his support for Whitaker’s initiative to help young people in South Sudan through the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI). A Los Angeles-based, non-profit NGO founded in 2012 by the actor, it aims to encourage peace through mediation and entrepreneurship in “fragile contexts”. Whitaker believes education is the way to spread values of peace, and his NGO works through a global network of hubs in South Sudan, Uganda, Mexico and South Africa, changing reality on the ground by educating young leaders with a combination of strategies: capacity-building, developing connectivity and supporting the economy. In 2012 WPDI announced a programme named the Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) in South Sudan to guide the community to peace and development under harsh circumstances.

According to Whitaker, “South Sudanese people have experienced war for 43 years in the last 62. Conflict in this country is like a chronic disease that we cannot treat if our mindset is simply to address emergency after emergency, intervention after intervention. We need to work with the people of South Sudan so they can prepare a future of peace for themselves and by themselves. With the support of Naguib, we will give young women and men of South Sudan an opportunity to become a vanguard of lasting peace and sustainable development. Our resources will propel their ambition to help their communities out of conflict, fragility and poverty.”

In 2004, for his part, Sawiris funded and led a humanitarian mission to provide relief to the widows and orphans most affected by civil war in South Sudan. He also funded the establishment of an Integrated School for children. “The recent events in South Sudan will pain anyone with a heart,” he said. “The work done there by Forest and his team is very important to give hope for a better future to people in a state of humanitarian crisis following a three-year civil war that resulted in the displacement of millions and the death of thousands. Through unique programmes to nurture a new generation of young leaders, his foundation is working to cultivate peace and stimulate development, and I am very proud to partner with them.”



The festival included a masterclass by Jeff Stockwell and Richard Tannein, The Screenwriter’s Path. Undertaken in partnership with the American Embassy in Cairo and the American Film Showcase and moderated by Ghada Shahbender, the class addressed the dilemma of finding “the story that connects with my own emotional interests”, as Stockwell — who wrote Bridge to Terabithia (2007), The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002) and The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017) — put it. He also explained how in America a studio will put forward an idea which writers’ agents will bid for. Since 2004, Stockwell has taught at the Screenwriting Lab at Film Independent; in 2016 he became a contract writer at Pixar Animation Studios.

Though he wrote his own directorial debut, Southside with You (2016), Tanne has also written for Pixar; he spent two years working closely with Disney/Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter. “I met Jeff when I was making a detour into his path,” Tanne explained his connection with his masterclass partner, “which probably I will have to do again because you have to put food on the table and independent films don’t pay the bills — and one of the opportunities that came was with Pixar Animation Studios, it’s not quite the same process that Jeff experienced: they find you, you don’t find them; they read all kinds of material, for example they had Jeff on their mind for years. And it was actually the script for Southside with You, which was a small independent film that caught their attention, so I went in and I wasn’t expecting to land this job but actually ended up working there for two years.”

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