This year the 64th edition of the Cannes Film Festival is hosting Egypt as its guest of honour for its achievement in toppling former president Hosni Mubarak. This is the first such initiative in the world renowned festival’s history, which this year runs from 11 to 22 May.
As a tribute to Egypt, a film comprised of 10 shorts will be screened during the festival. The film, entitled 18 Days, revolves around the uprising from its start on 25 January till Mubarak's toppling on 11 February. The ten short films are made by Yousry Nasrallah, Marwan Hamed, Sherif Arafa, Sherif El Bendary, Kamla Abou Zikry, Mariam Abou Auf, Mohamed Aly, Ahmed Alaa, Ahmed Abdallah and Khaled Marei.
Sarkhet Namla (The Cry of an Ant) by Sameh Abdel Aziz will be included in the Cinema de la Plage line-up. Hussein Kamal’s El Boustagy (The Postman) will be part of the Classics programme.
However, the choice of Sherif Arafa and Marwan Hamed to contribute to 18 Days has angered Egyptians, including many working in the country’s film industry. The anger stems from the fact that both Arafa and Hamed were actively involved with the corrupt regime, going as far as making adverts for Mubarak’s 2005 presidential campaign as well the dismantled former ruling National Democratic Party.
Some Egyptians living in France are also disturbed because the country’s Egyptian Ambassador, who was against pro-democracy demonstrations in France, will now be attending the official dinner following the film’s screening.
A petition is circulating online against the revolution being represented at Cannes by filmmakers who worked for the ousted regime. It also criticised the fact that some actors like film star Youssra involved in the films phoned television shows during the demonstrations against Mubarak’s regime to incite the public against the demonstrators.The petition has so far garnered around 180 signatures, mainly from filmmakers and others working in the field of arts.
Questions raised by the artists concern whether the invited filmmakers are travelling at the expense of the culture ministry. They also wonder whether the festival’s organisers have seen the final films, considering they were still being edited, when the announcement came out.
The scriptwriter and director Mohamed Hassane said that those who mostly deserve to be honoured for the revolution are the cinema makers who were martyred and injured.
“The culture ministry is exactly the same,” Hassane added. “The same people hold the same post. It is as if the revolution didn’t take place.”
However, cinema makers at the syndicate explained to Ahram Online that the Egyptian Minister of Culture, Emad Abou-Ghazi, visited the syndicate last Sunday (1 May) and said that the ministry is not involved in the issue and is not paying for their travelling fees.
“I am travelling at my own expense,” said Sherif El Bendary, one of the filmmakers involved in 18 Days. “We’ve been invited to Cannes."
As for the criticism that films are yet to be seen yet by the Cannes’ jury, El Bendary said that they haven’t seen the work as a whole but they’ve seen the work in progress.
The film will not participate in the official competition. Rather, it will be given a special screening in parallel to the festival.
“Any festival needs a point of sale to attract media around the world and a revolution is a good fashionable attraction,” said the film critic Sherif Awad.
Director and producer Hala Galal, who endorses the idea of reconciliation, is not against the participation of the filmmakers in the festival but she is angry that they will be honoured for the Egyptian revolution and not their artistic feats. To Galal, as for many Egyptians, Hamed, Arafa and the Egyptian actress Youssra are not representatives of the Egyptian revolution.
“This is not merely an issue between filmmakers,” said Galal “that is an issue that touches upon every Egyptian.”
Galal affirmed that she doesn’t have any issues with them on a personal level, and is willing to reconcile with them if they admit their mistakes and apologise for having being involved in the former regime’s propaganda machine.
“I think they belong to a group of artists who changed their loyalties after the revolution in order to become anti-Mubarak so as to continue working in the new era we are living,” said Awad commenting on Arafa and Hamed. “I respect some actors like Talaat Zakaria who did not change his words before and after the revolution.”
El Bendary defended the position of the film. “I do not agree with them having made ads for the failed regime but I don’t think that one should immediately blacklist them.” He added that after the revolution people should be more forgiving and tolerant. “We have all benefited from the former regime in one way or another, either directly or indirectly.”
“Many are also criticising us for making feature films about the revolution even though it is not over,” El Bendary continued. “I know that, but my film does not contain any political messages or propaganda. I only portrayed a moment from a human angle.”
El Bendary’s film "Curfew" is set in Suez and revolves around an old man with his sick grandson, trying to get home past the imposed curfew.