Gouna heats up for movie fest

gouna film festival

Late breaking news:

The public viewing screen for the opening (22nd of September) and the finale (29th of September) is being moved from the entrance of the New Marina Piazza to Downtown next to Tamr Henna, which apparently is a large restaurant.


The weather is stunningly beautiful here in Gouna, though very dry and hot. You have to avoid the sun much of the day, and drink a lot of bottled water.

Don’t know where Gouna is?

It’s a posh Egyptian resort town on the Red Sea, not too far away from Hurghada. The town is currently preparing to launch its first-ever film festival on Friday.

Yesterday, I decided to see the venue where the Opening Feature will be screened on Friday at 8PM.

It was a semi difficult to find, but when I got close to the area, I saw quite a few Egyptian workers lugging heavy stuff around.

I couldn’t quite make out where the theater was, though, so I asked one of them, and he answered ta’ala, which means come, or follow me, in Arabic.

Entering behind him through makeshift plywood entrance, I suddenly was in a smallish open theater that was being built from scratch.

The intensity of the activity under the blazing, pitiless sun was impressive.

In case you plan on going, this theater is by the New Marina.
You just have to walk behind the North side buildings facing the water, go through a large open courtyard, pass under some Moorish arches at the far end of this plaza, and you’ll find it.

I’m pretty sure there’ll be signage showing the various locations for all the GFF venues, but I could not find any directions in the program guide I picked up. I was told by the Gouna tourist office that one is at a hotel downtown, and another at the Berlin Technical College.  I hope they have shuttle service to take us from venue to venue!

The GFF program guide is being handed out everywhere to the public, such as at local supermarkets. Impressive list of sponsors, I must say, and Variety seems to be involved at some level.

Sheikh Jackson will kick off the festival.

It’s about a religious Egyptian who develops a fixation on MJ. MJ. Not sure where this movie is going to go with MJ’s troubled backstory, but I’m sure it’ll be an enjoyable watch. The film recently had a good reception at the Toronto Film Festival.

In addition to Sheikh Jackson, GFF has assembled an,eclectic lineup of feature films, documentaries, and shorts, most of which, no doubt, resonate in some way with the festival’s opaquely positive theme: Cinema for Humanity.

Other films being screened during GFF include Finland’s The Other Side of Hope, directed by Ari Kaurismaki, which has two intersecting story lines: a young Syrian refugee who has lost everything, and a middle-aged salesman who buys an unprofitable restaurant on a back street of Helsinki.

A few other films caught my eye.

Tamer Ashry’s Photocopy is an Egyptian film that is also about an older man who goes a little off the deep end late in life. The film is a portrait of the owner of a photocopy joint in Cairo who develops a strange obsession with dinosaurs. I love the idea! This film too already screened successfully overseas earlier this year.

There’s also a short called Lucky, directed by John Carroll Lynch, which appears to star the late Harry Dean Stanton (his name was not listed in the program, but the promo shot looked just like him). I saw Harry give a risqué talk at the Tribeca Film Festival maybe 8 years ago, and I was saddened to hear of his recent passing.

GFF will close with Human Flow, a German documentary helmed  by Chinese artist-in-exile Ai Wiwei, a no doubt ennobling film that offers a visual expression of the migration crisis currently being experienced around the world.

Well, I’m not going to list all the program highlights — you’ll have to read my reviews to know which turn out to be my faves. Alas, I was disappointed that the Last Days of the City, with Khalid Abdalla, was not chosen to be screened here.

These reviews will be published in Gouna News over the coming week or so, so stay tuned for more news from beautiful Gouna, where life is as it should be, and the stars of indie world cinema will soon be shining brightly!

leaving america


Native sun


I was just thinking: I’m half English, but don’t even know where Hatfield is.

I did become an American, though.  It didn’t work out,  So now I’ve left and am living in Gouna.

Yes, I’m Gounaman.

Ali G., as it were.

I started reading Leo Tregenza’s The Red Sea Mountains of Egypt on my balcony yesterday, which provides a good vantage point for seeing what’s going on in the north end of Gouna.

The sky here is a cloudless crystal blue, and the air is almost deliciously clean — although in the distance I can see haze coming from the direction of Cairo.

The sea is limpid.  The desert mountains are set back at some distance.

I breathe, in, out; the passive smoking cough from Nice has almost gone away.

I was worried that I’d left Leo’s book behind on the bedroom table at 61 rue Rossini.  

The mention of our AirBnB rental in NIce flashes my mind with thoughts of my wife, Erin.  She has arrived safely in Florida.  She has already emailed me, and said she woke up during the flight on the way back to America and was talking to me.  She wrote that I was with her; as she is, too, here, with me, always.

So,,, now I am on my balcony and focusing on Leo.

He could walk from the Nile across the desert to the Red Sea.  That is what I am interested in, and as I start reading, Leo does not disappoint.  

The balcony faces north; it is on the south end of Abou Tig marina. A constant breeze cools the hot day, as a French MTV channel plays a song about imagining dragons.  

I look at the marina, and the Red Sea in the distance. My uncle sent me an email.  He said a relative of mine happens to be in Gouna this week.  He also said he found me a beat up old army jeep.  That might work out, to dash off to Hurghada or Berenice or even further south — 

I’m tempted to write purple prose in my red dairy, when I look at this sea, rubbish such as this is my sea.

I went by the new marina where they are building a new movie theater for the upcoming Gouna Film Festival. I have already been to the local supermarket and bought Turkish coffee and a stainless steel kanuka to brew it in.  I’ve introduced myself to various people who work here. It is a pleasure to pronounce my name correctly, and hear them welcome me using stock Egyptian phrases:  you have honored the balad, you have illuminated it.

I’m home.

The honeymoon couple I met last night from Hatfield, they’re long gone. Too bad the hotel they were at only had a room with two single beds,

That would never happen to a native son.

Goodbye, Nice

Erin at the at the Comptoir Financier Arin Sauclières in Nice

About a week ago, I came with Erin to Place Massena to change some money.  I was very tired that day, as we had walked around quite a bit.  After stopping at some shops, we finally made it to the money changer.  I changed some money there, and we left, but when we arrived at the apartment, I realized that my red notebook, the one I had with me in Paris last year, the one in which I had scribbled various notes and literary ideas over the past year, had vanished.
I was pretty devastated, and quite stressed, as I could not remember if I had written down the login ID and pwd of my online bank account in this notebook.  So in a panic, I went through the complicated steps of changing this, and once that was done, wrote off my notes as spilled milk.  There would be other notes, I reasoned, other things to write down, other adventures to have.
Erin kept saying let’s go back to the money changer, but I was very tired, so tired from the past 16 years, that I could not bring myself to walk back there.  I tried to picture what might have happened.  I remembered consulting the little map I had drawn on a page in the notebook showing where the money changer was located, which I probably had in hand when I walked in; so what had happened was that I had put the notebook down, changed the money, and when I was being handed back euros, Erin remembered, somebody working at the money changer had entered into the office using a door immediately to my left.  It was this that had momentarily distracted me, and so I put the euros in my pocket, picked up my fishnet dive bag, and did not notice that I had left the notebook on the counter.
A day later, this setback was compounded when I lost my wallet.  A friend of mine had sent me an email warning me about pickpockets, and I immediately thought I had fallen for the stupidest trick in the book:  my wallet had been lifted.  I came back to the house in a real panic, and went through all my stuff.  My face turned chalk white, and I broke into a cold sweat.  Where could it be?  How could this have happened?  So I reconstructed my steps, and could not picture where or how this wallet had been lifted.  I had just stepped out to get something down the street, and I had not come in contact with anyone.  I started hyperventilating: the trip was now ruined, I had lost all the money in my wallet, and now I had to cancel my credit card, but how was I going to get another?
Finally, it occurred to me to peek out the door and look outside. Sure enough there was the wallet on our neighbor’s front door welcome mat.  It had obviously fallen out of my pocket when I was retrieving my keys, and the mat had muffled the sound of the wallet falling on the floor.  I had dodged a bullet.
Then earlier today, on our final day in Nice, I heeded what Erin had to say, and we went back to the money changer. Sure enough, the notebook, too, was there waiting for me, and nothing had been lost after all.
I have said that I am tired.  This is a fact.  I am exhausted after a 16 year run of bad luck. Sometimes the sky can fall down on you when you least expect it. Sometimes you lose things that can never be recovered.
I was to survive becoming ill, seriously so, long-term joblessness, and having to sell our beautiful home in Connecticut.
But I had survived.
I  was now much older.
I had to find a way out, instead of living a life that amounted to suicide on the installment plan, or I might die knowing that my life had turned out poorly and that I had passed on enjoying the pleasures still to be had and given in to the creeping bitterness of old age.
This trip I am on is not some casual grand tour; it is an escape for me from what had turned into an unrelenting gehanna.
But it is also something else: it’s an affirmation that I’m not done yet. That I have not given up. That I will not succumb to bitterness and the shriveling of my soul.
I’m lucky.  My angels came with me to Nice, it seems; they have always protected me from the worst all along.
And now, it’s time for the next leg of my journey, and I shall not be looking back.
Some think hope is a dangerous illusion, a refuge for the eternally naive.
I say it is the only thing I really cannot do without.
leaving america