Egypt is no stranger to film, the northeastern Middle Eastern and North African nation has been the leader of film in the Middle East, dating as far back as 1896 with silent films. The country has a strong and robust film industry with some of the region’s most leading men and women of the silver screen.
So, when Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, the Festival Founder was approached by Amr Mansi and Egyptian actress Bushra Rozza to do a film festival in El Gouna, a built from scratch resort town on the Red Sea, he jumped at it. In 2019, Naguib was listed on Forbes Magazine Africa’s Billionaire’s list as the 9th richest man in Africa. Four years in, the El Gouna Film Festival has garnered respect as a leading film festival on the international stage, where it has not only gotten attention for films, it has become a beacon of fashion for the region.
“I had an experience before, where I was going to do a film festival in Sharm El Sheikh, and the idea of making a cinema festival wasn’t new,” shares Sawiris. He’s an attentive and direct man and it’s clear that film is a personal passion of his. “Doing a festival was always on my mind. But Amr Mansi and Bushra Rozza came to me to do it in El Gouna because this place provides a good ambience for the festival,” he continues.
The idea of getting behind and building a festival is not solely about show or only about revenue for Sawiris. Movies are a favorite past time for the businessman. “Being a very passionate movie viewer, I love watching movies. I’m like a small child getting chocolate when watching a movie,” chuckles Sawiris. “For me, I normally sneak out of parties to go and watch a movie. It helps me relax and it stimulates my mind, it gives me happiness- or sorrow, and it keeps my emotions ongoing.”
“So immediately I said let’s do it,” when he was approached to do the festival. “And although El Gouna is not my domain because it’s led by my brother, he was also very much for it because this place has become a big success.” Naguib’s brother Samih is the Founder of El Gouna and equally as passionate about what is happening with film and fashion through the festival.
Unarguably, the El Gouna Film Festival has shifted to becoming one of the most important star-studded film and fashion soirees in Egypt. The festival has given young designers and small brands in Egypt and in the Middle East a platform of getting their name out there, as celebrities wear these brands at red carpet events and screenings.
“Fashion is in every festival, look at Cannes,” notes Naguib. “Fashion is an integral part of the festival. Feeling good about yourself, it’s not an essence, but it’s nice to have an occasion where women can wear wonderful amazing dresses and look beautiful. It’s also giving a platform for up-and-coming designers because they can get this kind of exposure, which they don’t normally get with all the cameras.”
He attributes the success of the festival to building the right team and hiring the best people who know what they’re doing for every arm of the festival. “We cooperated with the most professional people in every single element. Say for example transportation, we got the best transportation company in Egypt that does transportation. Same for fashion, logistics and translators. We took the best of the best. For the cinema aspect, we are working with people who are respected in this industry. Everyone knows them and they have the best cinema knowledge.”
The Legacy that Naguib wants to leave is that he would like for the actors, writers and directors to be grateful what he and his team have built up. “And for my country too, because the festival provides the country with a lot of exposure. People will see Egypt on the map as safe fun place.”
You can find out more about the El Gouna Film Festival here.