Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, whose film was selected to screen at this year’s Cannes festival
, responded to the negative criticism aired on last week’s episode of the programme Ana Masr, presented by TV host Amany El-Khayat on state-owned Nile TV.
Diab, an award-winning filmmaker, wrote the scripts of several well-known Egyptian films including El-Gezira 1 and 2 (2007 and 2014) and Decor (2014).
After the airing of El-Khayat's initial remarks, the controversial TV anchor aired during a subsequent episode a complete recorded phone call from Diab, who thanked her for personally getting in touch with him.
“This is an example of how a human connection melts disagreements,” Diab told El-Khayat during the phone call.
Diab then responded to her comments and clarified his views, discussing what the show had previously stated about him and his film.
“The media has the right to ask questions, but the report was erroneous and sounded more like an accusation,” he continued.
During their conversation, Diab noted how El-Khayat had previously made statements about his film, questioning his intentions, as well as his right to make a film that expresses his own personal views.
According to El-Khayat, Diab's views distort the country's image. “Suddenly they are celebrating an Egyptian film in Cannes, the festival which we know never celebrates us except when it has a reason [self-interest],” El-Khayat said in the controversial episode.
“When we talk about art we need specialists, but my right and yours [as the viewer] is to ask: who is Diab, and how does someone get celebrated so quickly in this manner,” she continued.
The show then aired a video report, presenting the biography of Diab, with a list of his previous accomplishments as a scriptwriter, then stating that, “in most of his films, Diab presents a distorted image of the Egyptian society."
According to El-Khayat, this was "made more clear in 2010 when he wrote and directed the film 678, which tackled the harassment of women, and presented Egypt as a society that abuses women and their rights.”
Ana Masr's report stated that Diab had always voiced thoughts that stood in opposition to most of the country’s institutions, and finally asks, “does Diab or anyone else, even if they are talented, have the right to hide the poison of his thoughts and personal stances beneath the sugar coating of gripping cinematic work, especially when these thoughts are not in line with what most Egyptians believe in?”
In the telephone conversation, Diab responded to all previous claims, saying “My main intention with the film is for people to watch it.”
El-Khayat's comments came in the midst of positive reviews from local and international critics. The Hollywood Reporter listed Clash among the 10 most important films in Cannes, and The French Film Critics Association selected as one of the five films it supports.
“[Film critic] Samir Farid had seen the film before we applied for the festival, and told me ‘If this won’t go to Cannes, then what will?’” Diab said.
Regarding El-Khayat's report, Diab said the most disappointing thing was the lack of faith that an Egyptian could be successful without a suspicious agenda.
“I’m asking of you and of all journalists, to have a discussion about facts, and not intentions,” Diab said, adding that El-Khayat herself was subjected to having her words used out of context and interpreted as having bad intentions in regards to the film.
Few days after the show made its accusations against Diab, the Cinematic Syndicate issued a statement backing Diab, his film, and his right to creative expression.
"We declare our solidarity with and our support for our colleagues whose film represented Egypt in international circles,” the Syndicate stated.
The syndicate added that El-Khayat’s report slanders Diab, and “violates the Egyptian constitution, which guaranteed the right to expression, opinion and creativity."
Filmmaker Tamer El-Said, director of In The Last Days of The City, which won the Caligari Prize at Berlinale, also denounced El-Khayat's treatment of the film with a statement on his personal Facebook page.
"Neither the report, nor the presenter, nor her guest analyzed the contents of the film, and it is clear that they haven’t seen it as they don’t say otherwise. Nevertheless they allow themselves to judge the film and probe its motives. It is real horror that state television propagates ignorance and that films are judged by people who didn’t watch them," El-Said writes.
Diab asked El-Khayat to "watch the film before making judgments on its content," and was especially keen on hearing her opinion after learning that she graduated with a degree in literary criticism.
“When people start prematurely propagating negativity about something, others form an image of the film that is not accurate,” he said.
Diab added that such statements could slander an artist representing Egypt internationally, and end up stirring an unnecessary call to stop the showing of the film.
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