The Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) has withdrawn its invitation to French director Claude Lelouch, who was due to be honored in this year's edition, after he was heavily criticised in Egypt for his support for Israel.
"After the serious criticism, that reached its peak with a photo of Lelouch in an Israeli parachute base, the committee was about to announce the cancelation of the honoring before I personally talked to him on the phone, and he was aware of the criticism, so he himself didn't wish to come to a place where he wouldn't be greatly welcomed," explained festival president Mohamed Hefzi, an Egyptian director and producer, to an Egyptian TV programme Tuesday.
Lelouch was to receive the Faten Hamama Honorary Award for lifetime achievement in film before he was strongly criticised by Egyptian critics and social media users for his multiple visits to Israel and for being honored there.
"We are a cinema festival, not politics. We chose Lelouch for his great films, that include one of my favorites ever, 'A Man And Woman.' I adore the man's work. We paid no attention to his political views, although I believe he stated nothing against the Arab world," Hefzi insisted.
A still photo from CIFF president Mohamed Hefzi's interview with DMC channel Tuesday
After the announcement that the 80-year-old filmmaker would be honored, some critics posted videos and photos of him in Israel, in some of which he expressed gratitude and love for Israel.
"Claude has not revealed any opinions regarding the Arab-Israeli case, but the criticism only was because of his visits to Israel and his admiration of it, as he once said that he feels home there. I don't see anything against the Arabs in this, but we don't want the public be angry at the festival, especially as he was supposed to receive the Faten Hamama Award and this name is very loved by Egyptians," Hefzi said, adding that the videos weren't enough to label Lelouch a "Zionist."
Hefzi compared Lelouch to Argentinean football star Lionel Messi, who was warmly welcomed in Egypt despite his good relations with Israel.
"I hope we focus on cinema rather than politics. We prepared a lot of good surprises in this year's edition of the festival, including very iconic guests, great film screenings, and very important workshops," Hefzi added.
Born in 1937 to an Algerian Jewish father, Lelouch, who started his career as a reporter with a hidden camera, directed a series of successful feature films, including Rendezvous (1967), Money Money Money (1972), Happy New Year (1973), Second Chance (1976), Les Uns et les Autres (1985), Les misérables (1995) and Everyone's Life (2017).
Lelouch's A Man and a Woman won the Palme d'Or at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival as well as two Oscars, including Best Foreign Language Film.
Organised by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture since its founding in 1976, CIFF is an annual internationally-accredited film festival held at the Cairo Opera House.
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