Marginalized Heroes

in 6th El Gouna Film Festival

by Zein Al-abedin Khairy

These were some days of enjoying real cinema that my colleagues and I from the FIPRESCI jury spent at El Gouna Film Festival, running in its sixth edition. 

As a jury, we watched seven diverse films with different trends, although they had many things in common – the most notable being their triumph for humanity and their capture of marginal models far removed from the limelight, as they only appear in the media as victims that only few will pause for.

In the following, I shall give some brief comments on each of these seven films.

Hollywoodgate. The film won the FIPRESCI award. A brave and intelligent documentary that talks about the situation in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of American forces. The secret of the film’s courage is that the director-cinematographer Ibrahim Nash’at had neither plans nor the freedom to film whatever he wanted. Rather, he was filming all the time under the threat of death. Not metaphorically, but as real killings carried out by the Taliban against any opposition or anyone they suspect of betrayal. As for the intelligence, it lies in how to deal with this amount of footage and produce a coherent film that clearly conveys the scale of the tragedy which the Afghan state is currently experiencing, and the scale of the disaster caused by the withdrawal of American forces in this way, leaving equipment, weapons, and aircraft worth billions of dollars, which greatly facilitated the mission. The Taliban is transforming from a militia into a large, regular army.

Goodbye Julia. A piece of beauty! Although it is the first work by director and author Mohamed Kordofani, he was able to present a high-quality piece of art. It has everything a good film needs, including a cohesive script full of conflicts and human feelings, and there is complete control over all the elements of the game, including shooting, acting, editing, etc.

The film puts you directly at the heart of the conflict and makes you understand a lot of what you may not know about the events in Sudan. It explains the reasons and circumstances that led to the separation of South Sudan from Sudan, and explains the crisis of racism that society suffered from and that led to the current situation.

Despite the difficult circumstances during the filming in Sudan, a country still suffering from the scourge of divisions, civil wars and revolutions, this did not affect the determination of the film crew that completed their film as if they had not faced any problems.

If Only I Could Hibernate. How difficult it is to create joy, hope and love from the heart of suffering! This is precisely what this beautiful film was able to provide. It is a piece of fine art that brilliantly conveys the tragedy experienced by a poor family in a regional centre in Mongolia, without getting involved in the tragedy until the end or making it a shocking melodrama. Rather, the film provided immersion constantly broken by a song, a local children’s game, or joyful situations such as ice skating, and continues to emphasise that there is hope in creating a better life for this family through the teenage son, who has all the characteristics of an ambitious person. The director Zoljargal Purevdash manages not to fall into the trap of exaggeration or portraying this teenage hero as an angel who makes no mistakes; rather, he lives out his wild adolescence but never abandons the responsibility that he carries, forced or willing.


Transient Happiness. A calm rhythm, static shots that stay for seconds or even minutes on the screen, as if they were carefully drawn paintings of the picturesque nature of a remote rural area in Iraqi Kurdistan, with almost no use of lighting except natural, and with a spontaneous performance from the actors as if they were not professionals.

Despite all this calmness and peace that surrounds the scenes of this film, which depicts the simple, uncomplicated life of a cattle breeder and his wife, the film nevertheless implicates us in the heart of the events and sorrows facing this peaceful part of the world, where attacks do not stop – attacks by neighbouring countries, especially Turkiye, where we learn from news broadcasts that bombs hit innocent residents of these peaceful villages.

Dreaming and Dying. In a space between reality, dreams, imagination, and myths, the events of Nelson Yeo’s Dreaming and Dying take place. It is a film about love and the past that we think is over, but it continues to haunt us forever and lives inside us; perhaps it even deprives us of real life, and therefore we live in a parallel world.

The events seem a little strange, but this is alleviated by human feelings which are the same, no matter how different cultures are.

The film uses a strange ratio, and the pre-title sequence took more than 27 minutes. In general, the film is good, humane, and very distinguished in terms of the performance of the three actors. The director and cinematographer also excelled in showing nature, but in calm and neutral colours, not bright one; this suits the psychological state of the characters.

  1. Jude Chehab’s documentary about Hiba, who for many years was involved in a semi-secret religious group led by a woman she loved to the point of madness. Despite this, we gradually discover how this group and their leader hurt her so much…

The film depicts the granddaughter, the main character being her mother, Hiba; the third character in the film is the grandmother who loved and encouraged her daughter to join the sect.  In my opinion, the film is good in some areas and weak and boring in others, and it lacks cohesion.

Whispers of Fire & Water

Lubdhak Chatterjee’s work is a very calm and slow-paced film characterised by a beautiful image of gorgeous and yet difficult nature. It is a film that undoubtedly stars the voice. Its title is indicative of what to expect, but at the same time it does not continue on the same rhythm or path all the time, but rather shifts and changes in the middle, which makes me feel the director’s confusion and his inability to determine exactly what he wants: what message he wants to convey beyond the direct statement about the great amount of suffering that people are forced endure to work and live in these harsh conditions, which most of the world knows nothing about.

Zein Khairy
Edited by Birgit Beumers