The Cairo International Film Festival scrapped the red carpet and press conference for Egyptian filmmaker Islam El Azzazi’s debut feature and competition film “About Her” after a number of sexual misconduct allegations were made against the director and surfaced in the hours before the film’s world premiere this week.
The first of the allegations against the director was submitted anonymously to Daftar Hekayat, an Arabic blog that shares stories of sexual violence survivors in their own words. Since the film screened at the festival, other women have come forward. On Thursday, a fifth testimony was published on Egyptian feminist forum elmodawana.com with further misconduct allegations against the filmmaker. It is understood a sixth individual has also come forward.
The festival, which ran Dec. 2-10, released a statement on its official Facebook page soon after the allegations were made explaining why they decided to go ahead with the premiere. The post stated that “although the accusations against the director are uncertain and not yet validated,” if any testimony is proven, the festival would exclude the film.
Speaking to Variety, festival director Mohamed Hefzy said, “We felt we had to issue a statement quickly given the seriousness of the allegations.” The festival contemplated pulling the film from the event, but ultimately “took into consideration the producers and all those involved in making the film,” added Hefzy.
In the meantime, El Azzazi, took to Facebook to deny the allegations. In his post, which he has since deleted but a screenshot of which can be seen on EgyptianStreets.com, he slammed what he claimed were “inaccurate and slanderous” allegations against him, and challenged his accusers to take the matter to the appropriate authorities.
He ended the statement by arguing, “I hope the viral community will proceed with caution and understand that the verification is required by all parties before passing judgement.”
Others have stepped forward to defend the accusers and corroborate their statements. Egyptian filmmaker and artist Salma El Tarzi took to Facebook to support the accounts, arguing that despite being an old friend of El Azzazi’s, she supports the survivors.
El Azzazi has also released a five-page statement, seen by Variety, answering the allegations, in which he claims he pulled his original social media post because of the comments. He maintains his innocence, and questions the validity and rationale of the statements made against him.
Variety reached out to “About Her” distributor Mad Solutions for comment on whether they will go ahead with the film’s release, but did not receive a response by press time.