The film community in the Arab world has promptly reacted with outrage and determination to plow on undeterred in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo slaughter by Islamic fundamentalists in Paris which, for many, mirrors situations they have long been contending with at home, especially in Egypt, historically the Arabic film industry’s powerhouse.
“In the [Arab] creative community, the impact of these religious terrorists is one that we’ve been suffering for years,” noted prominent Egyptian auteur Yousry Nasrallah, who has delved into the impact of fundamentalism in pics including docu “On Boys, Girls and the Veil” and his more recent post Arab Spring drama “After the Battle,” which competed at Cannes in 2012.
“There is always this kind of pressure on us from censorship and public opinion to make films that do not transgress,” he added.
But he, and other prominent Arab film industry personalities, have no intention of retreating in the face of the killings.
“I’m constantly blackmailed by people like that, and we’ve been resisting them. The thing is, we’re not going to take it. It can’t go on. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that you cannot give in on any level. You cannot allow them to dictate any kind of constraints, because that translates into violence. The more you give in, the more they will resort to violence,” Nasrallah passionately declared.
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As an antidote to current pressures Nasrallah is under in Egypt due to religious issues, he is now in pre-production on a pic about cooks who work in the countryside for weddings and circumcisions. They move from one village to the next and cook for festive occasions. “It’s a film about food and pleasurable things,” he said. “I think it’s very appropriate at a time when everybody is talking about austerity and everything that is not linked to pleasure becomes glorified in the name of religion,” he added. Egyptian production company New Century is producing Nousy’s as-yet-untitled pic, with plans to start shooting in March.
One of the first things prominent Egyptian indie writer-producer Mohamed Hefzy (pictured) did when he heard about the Paris attack was reach out to Eric Lagesse of Gaul’s Pyramid Films, his French co-producer on Egyptian auteur Mohamed Diab’s drama-thriller “Clash,” which he calls “a film that tackles Islamist extremists and Islamists versus the rest of society in a nonjudgemental way.”
The reaction he got was: “Now we really need to make this film faster, and it’s more relevant,” Hefzy recounts. And “it’s not for business reasons that he and others are saying this. They feel you need to shine some light on the truth,” he said.
“Clash,” which is expected to start shooting in Cairo in March, is set entirely inside an overcrowded police truck packed with both pro and anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators. Diad is known internationally for bold sex harassment pic “Cairo 678.”
Hefzy said “Clash” will try to “come to an understanding about what is driving these people.”
Interestingly, he noted that the reaction he saw on social media in Egypt to the Paris massacre is that the solution to the problem resides within the Arab world.
“It’s s clear to me that what is going to defeat Islamic extremists is not the West, but actually the people in the Arab world who are so sick of these guys basically tarnishing the image of Islam,” Hefzy said. “It’s Muslims who need to drive these people away. They are going to make sure that they [the extremists] cannot impose their doctrine of ‘you are going to live as we say, or we will kill you.’ That is something that Muslims will not accept. It’s going to come from here. They are going to be defeated locally; I don’t think that Western armies will be the solution.”
Egyptian producer Hani Osama, a co-producer with Hefzy on Amr Salama’s recent black comedy “Excuse My French,” about a Christian kid enrolled in an Islamic public school who finds himself forced to conceal his religious identity, was similarly undeterred.
“I think our industry has gone through a lot and the people have the maturity to overcome the situation and not be intimidated by these actions,” he said.
Cairo-based Tunisian movie star Hend Sabry (“The Yacoubian Building,” “Asmaa”) expressed similar outrage and an unwillingness to give in.
“My identity has been hijacked by a bunch of loud mercenaries,” she said. “If we fear them, they win. And they shall not win. We (secular peaceful Muslims) are more a threat to them than any Charlie Hebdo [cartoons].”
“We, the Muslims and Arabs in this vast world, are the ones most affected by those barbarian terrorists,” said Jordanian producer Rula Nasser, who most recently shepherded Mais Darwazah’s well-received docu “My Love Awaits Me by the Sea,” about a second-generation Palestinian making her first trip to the homeland.
“France has excellent relations with Muslim nations, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon,” she noted. “This was the basis of an artistic collaboration in film between East and West. Now this collaboration needs to be stronger to work harder on educating and penetrating the radicals,” she said.