Friday, April 9, 2010

Egyptians withdraw from film festival because of Israeli film

The sixth annual short-film festival at the French Cultural Center in Cairo (CFCC), "Recontres de l'Image," started out with 49 screenings. That number has dropped to 17 after the jury, composed of three Egyptian directors and actors, withdraw their participation and a number of Egyptian short films followed.
The reason was the inclusion of the film Almost Normal, directed by Keren Ben Raphael, an Israeli director who studies at the prestigious French cinema school La Fémis. The seven-day program for the festival had already been distributed when Ahmed Atef, a film critic, director and jury member resigned two weeks ago after discovering that one of the participants was Israeli. Atef issued a statement outlining his position. He received the complete support of the Cinema Syndicate. "The participation of a film by an Israeli filmmaker is completely unacceptable,” said Shoukry Abu Emiera, the secretary general of the Cinema Syndicate. “Any Egyptian artist who travels to Israel or participates in an Israeli production--given the atrocities that Israel commits on a daily basis--is boycotted by the syndicate."
 Jean-Pierre Debaere, dircto of the CFCC, trie to save the estibval by announcing that the “offending” film would be withdrawn, but was overruled by the  French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said it was  “inconceivable not to screen this film because of the director’s nationality.”
Almost Normal tells the story of Shai, an Israeli boy in Tel Aviv who is about to turn 12 and wishes for a normal birthday, which is tainted every year by the anniversary of his grandfather's death.

Other Israeli movies had been screened at the center before and were never stigmatized like this short film.
The Wall, by French-Israeli director Simone Bitton about the erection of the wall that separates Israelis and Palestinians was screened at the CFCC in 2006 and 2007. Abraham Segal’s documentary La Politique de Dieu (God’s Politics), was shown in 2008. These two full-length films produced by Israelis did not cause a stir when they were screened at the CFCC. But since Ahmed Atef resigned from the jury, the decision to boycott the CFCC's festival has snowballed. Asser Yassin, a young Egyptian actor, assured that his decision to leave the arbitration committee was not influenced by the Cinema Syndicate. “It has nothing to do with Keren Ben Raphael’s nationality. I left the jury because I discovered on her CV that she served in the Israeli army, which I consider a terrorist organization,” he said.

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