Takrir (Report) a short 45-minute film by young director Ezz El-Din Dowidar, a Muslim Brotherhood member, did not reach the screen of the Sayed Darwish Hall in Giza's Haram district on Friday.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on 16 March, saying "In an absurd act of blatant discrimination, the Academy of Arts prevents showing a movie perceived as a ‘Brotherhood production’ in any movie theatre in Egypt," according to the Ikhwan Web, the Muslim Brotherhood's official English news website.
According to Ayman El-Shimi, current director of the Sayed Darwish Hall, the independent theatre does not fall under the management of the Academy of Arts. "We were approached by the organisers of what we were told was a Talents Event and we approved the event to take place," El-Shimi told Ahram Online. "Depending on the event's content, it's the organisers' responsibility to provide all formal permissions, something we communicated to the person renting the hall."
"We were also told that the event will be with free entry to the attendees," he added.
He later found out through online channels that the event was, in fact, a film screening with invitations being sold at LE100, El-Shimi told Ahram Online. "We immediately contacted the director and asked him to clarify the issue," he explained. "He came to our office and stated he was not aware of all the permits he needed to arrange specifically for a film screening. We extended help in directing him with this issue, but he refused and asked for the down payment, cancelling the whole event."
Egypt's film screening regulations
To screen a film in a public sphere, one needs a permit from the Egyptian Film Syndicate and also the film needs to pass through the Egyptian Censorship Board.
However, with the newly emerging independent film scene, many of the projects do not go through these steps. Filmmakers choose to screen their films in independent culture centres and festivals since the syndicate does not have legal procedures in place for independent films, but only for commercial ones. Legally, these state institutions have the right to halt the screening of films that do not have the official permits. Yet, many films are shown anyway in independent locations.
"Our decision is not based on, as we are accused, discrimination against the Brotherhood, as we knew from the very first day who is renting the hall," El-Shimi stated. "Our decision is based on lack of providing legal support. I cannot bend the law or support any actions that do not have a cleared legal path - making profit is, however, a serious legal problem."
Yet, according to Dowidar, the permit issued was used as an 'excuse' to discriminate against him for his political leanings. When they started publicising for the film, many calls to protest outside the hall and prevent entry were communicated by opposition forces on social media. He suspected the administration of the Sayid Darwish Hall decided to give in to these calls and cancel the film, using the permits as an excuse, the director claimed.
"When I walked in for the meeting, regarding the invitations issue, the first thing they asked me at the theatre was: 'Why didn't you tell us you were a member of the Brotherhood?' This should not even be up for discussion," Dowidar told Ahram Online.
"Many directors have political inclinations, such as being a liberal or socialist; people should look at the content I am putting forward, not which party I belong to," he added.
The director further stated the film is media propaganda, even though it has been dubbed as a "Brotherhood production" and first step to the "Brotherhoodisation of cinema." El-Nahda Cinema, the collective behind the film and same name as the Brotherhood's Nahda Project, campaigned with the Brotherhood during the presidential elections.
El-Nahda Cinema is a non-profit initiative of young filmmakers, who are looking to make socially driven films that reflect "the ethics and traditions of Egyptian society," and is not affiliated to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or its political arm The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Dowidar explained.
He also clarified that the film had no funding body, and most of the actors and crew acted as volunteers, which is why they were trying to sell invitations for the premier of the film to make the money for renting the hall, not for profit. He also claimed that as soon as he found out that this was in fact illegal, he returned the money to the people who had already paid.
The film has no political messages, according to the director. It is merely presenting an array of 'social diseases', such as thuggery.
El-Nahda Cinema has held a press conference condoning the theatre and the governmental bodies who are not supporting them in gaining the permits. In a recent statement on their Facebook page, they also condoned the Freedom and Creativity Front, for not supporting their case, even though they support similar cases of censorship on arts.
"I think the whole issue went far beyond needed parameters. The media was involved, accusing the Academy of Arts of discrimination; while the Academy has nothing to do with this story as well as there was no issue of discrimination from the Sayed Darwish hall's management. On the other hand, some media portrayed the director as evil," El-Shimi concluded.
Galal Othman, actor and director and former director of the Sayed Darwish Hall, told Ahram Online the whole story is being advertised by the Muslim Brotherhood in a misleading way. "They are trying to create an image of some kind of discrimination, which is not true."