May 20, 2024

Prominent Egyptian director Marwan Hamed, whose epic “Kira and El Gen” about local resistance to British occupation recently scored at the local box office, is being feted with a career award by the El Gouna Film Festival.

The Egyptian fest, running Oct. 13-20 in the Red Sea resort roughly 250 miles south of Cairo, is also paying tribute to the Sudanese Film Group, a groundbreaking collective of filmmakers, and is planning an homage to late great British-French icon Jane Birkin.

Hamed (pictured above) broke out internationally in 2006 with his bold adaptation of Alaa Aswany’s bestselling novel “The Yacoubian Building” that became a game-changer in Egytian cinema due to the way it depicted homosexuality, Islamic fundamentalism and government corruption. After “Yacoubian” become a local hit and travelled widely Hamed scored again big time with “The Blue Elephant,” a thriller with supernatural elements and its sequel “The Blue Elephant 2” that more recently broke Arab box office records.

“Kira and El Gen” is based on the book “1919″ by Ahmed Mourad (who also penned “The Blue Elephant” novel). With a budget north of $10 million Hamed’s latest sprawling epic has been touted as the most expensive film in Egyptian cinema history and stars some of the biggest names in Arab cinema, including Karim Abdel Aziz, Ahmed Ezz, Hind Sabri and Ahmad Malek. British actor Sam Hazeldine also appears.

“Kira and El Gen”
Courtesy of Marwan Hamed

Middle Eastern and North African history also played a big part in the formation of the Sudanese Film Group during the 1970s and 80s when a myriad religious and political factions waged a civil war in Sudan and a group of filmmakers joined forces “to champion the illuminating power of cinema against the shadows of darkness,” as they put it in their mission statement. Their recently restored short films will be screening at El Gouna just as “Goodbye Julia,” the first Sudanese film ever to screen in Cannes, launches into MENA from the Egyptian fest.

El Gouna’s homage to Jane Birkin, who died in July at 76, will feature four films: “Boxer,” a free-wheeling 2007 meditation “about about love, death, devotion, betrayal and regret,” as Variety’s review put it, that Birkin directed and in which she stars with, among others, Geraldine Chaplin, Michel Piccoli, and John Hurt.

Then there is the 1988 film “Jane B. by Agnès V.,” which Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge has called “a playful postmodern essay-film by the late, great Agnès Varda, in which the two women conspire to deconstruct Birkin’s star status, somehow augmenting her mystery in the process,” and another portrait “Jane by Charlotte” (2021) in which her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg examines the actor, singer-songwriter and fashion icon, depicting their enduring mother-daughter bond.

Finally, there is “Kung-Fu Master!” (aka “Le Petit Amour”) a fun film that was made concurrently with “Jane B. par Agnès V” by both Varda and Birkin, which explores the relationship between a middle-aged woman, portrayed by Birkin, and a 14-year-old video game enthusiast, played by Varda’s son, Mathieu Demy. 

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