Where Is Egyptian Cinema Headed? Filmmakers Lament New Censorship Under Morsi's Rule

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by Tambay A. Obenson
April 30, 2013 11:08 AM
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President Morsi

Worth reading piece on the state and direction of Egyptian cinema, in the new Mohamed Morsi era. Morsi was elected president of the country in June 2012, a year after Hosni Mubarak was ousted, following 18 days of demonstrations during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. 

The concern amongst Egyptian filmmakers is that Morsi's government, with its Islamist majority, has brought with it a change in the country's approach to censorship of the arts - essentially, filmmakers feel restricted in their efforts to be creative and tell a wide variety of stories, as Egyptian cinema seems to be moving towards art that's closer to outright propaganda, since, under the new censorship commission created by President Morsi, films will be subject to the approval of al-Azhar, the foremost religious authority in Egypt.

You'll recall that it was just last month when Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses' independently-produced feature documentary Jews of Egypt finally received approval from the Egyptian censorship authority, for a local theatrical release, after it had initially withheld permission for the documentary's national release, because "National Security was worried that its title could create tension in the street."

The documentary film captures the lives of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century through the present. The filmmaker said that it's an attempt to understand how Egyptian society turned from a society full of tolerance and acceptance of one another, to one that that rejects others. 

In essence, his intent with the film was to show a more tolerant Egyptian, which several Egyptian Jews made important artistic and political contributions to. 

The film’s producer Haytham el-Khamissy condemned state security for suppressing history, critical thinking and creativity with their initial action to prevent the film from screening locally.

Here's half of the piece on where Egyptian cinema is heading:

Deserted film theatres due to a lack of security, widespread film piracy, and film distributors who pay the price. And beside public disaffection, there is also an exodus of film professionals such as actors and technicians. The "Hollywood of the East" now stands in the shadow of Dubai and Beirut, writes Eder Lizi for Africultures.

The Egyptian Chamber for the Film Industry has reported a record drop in revenues for the first half of 2012. Producing a film in Egypt today is akin to a suicide mission, said the chamber's president Sayed Fathi.

But should we see the crisis of Egyptian cinema as a direct consequence of the Islamists’ arrival in power? According to many colleagues in Cairo, the Arab Spring only accelerated a crisis that was already looming.

"Egyptian cinema is losing ground in its historic sphere of influence," says producer Hani Gerges. More precisely, this has been the case since the Gulf emirates started investing in image and the audiovisual sector as tools of "media diplomacy". And Beirut's cultural revival has only exacerbated Cairo's decline, in a competition where Egypt, after being the frontrunner in the race for so long, is now falling behind. Egyptian films no longer make anyone dream, says Gerges: "Sales abroad keep dropping."

While all seem to agree that it's an economic crisis, some point out that it's also a political one. The position of Morsi’s government, with its Islamist majority, "gives little reason to be optimistic," says director Magdy Ali. "In the past, we had to negotiate with financiers. Now you can add the Committee of Moral Order to that. "

"But we won't make any concessions," warns the young director.

Since the Nasser era, filmmaking has happened under the supervision of the Censorship Committee for Artistic Products. Deemed "liberal", the committee was rarely heavy handed towards Egyptian artists. But the Islamists’ arrival has foreseen a change in tone. Three film projects have already been rejected, including... the remake of a film made and distributed in 1957.

Read the rest on the Euromed website, which supports cinema in the South Mediterranean region. 

What's intriguing about all this is that it was not long after the 2011 revolution, which put Egyptian cinema in the backseat for a period of time, as other more seemingly important matters held the nation's attention, that some were wondering if the revolution would give birth not only to a new government, but also to a new Egyptian film industry, that would enjoy a new creative growth spurt, and the mainstream will enter a new era, with prohibitive taxes levied on America films, to help with the local film industry.

I'm not sure if this is what they had in mind.

I certainly wouldn't call myself an authority on Egyptian cinema, so others who are experts might be able to add to the piece and fill in any holes.

Click HERE to continue reading the above article on the Euromed website.

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1 Comment

  • ska-triumph | May 6, 2013 4:07 PMReply

    Yes. Thanks for this post.

    My fellow filmmaker friends - who are from/have heritage from the country/region - have said that the pre-revolution caustic environment made Egypt's cinema quite insular. Only local commercial with little international involvement. No surprise that, along with every major social institution, original /inventive filmmaking is being hamstrung, if not suppressed.

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