By AFP First Published: October 8, 2007
Organizers of the Cairo International Film Festival, which opens next month, have loudly opposed an application by Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit," a fictional tale of an Egyptian police band that gets stranded in Israel.
The director has said his movie, which won praise at the Munich and Cannes film festivals, sends a strong pro-peace message.
But Soheir Abdel Kader, the festival's vice president, told AFP, "It is out of the question that an Israeli film plays here."
The Israelis applied for a place at this year's 31st edition of the Egyptian festival - whose motto ironically is "to advance understanding through the language of art between all the peoples of the world" - through the event's representatives in Germany.
"They will no longer be on our contact list, we didn't even answer their email," said Abdel Kader. "They should have known we are against the showing of an Israeli film."
A solid "anti-normalization" front exists in Egypt's cultural circles which reject collaboration or contact with Israeli artists or intellectuals, despite a peace deal signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to fuel anger in Egyptians who believe the US-sponsored peace deal changed Egypt's role from regional heavyweight to mediator whose decision-making power is largely defined by Washington.
Three members of the festival committee did watch a preview of the "The Band's Visit" but did so in their personal capacity, not as officials of the film fest which runs from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7.
The film delves into unlikely cross-cultural relations when an Alexandrian police band invited to perform in Israel gets lost in the Negev desert after their hosts fail to pick them up.
The musicians end up staying at a local cafe, and the initial, begrudging interaction between the Egyptians and the Israelis eventually develops into a warm exchange.
The film was also well received in its native Israel and is being considered for two prizes by the European Film Academy.
"We regret to hear that the film has not been accepted [in Egypt] for political reasons without consideration for its artistic merit," Israeli embassy spokesman Benny Sharoni told AFP.
The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot said the movie had been expected to be shown at the Abu Dhabi film festival this month. But the paper said this infuriated the Egyptians and the showing was quickly cancelled after the Egyptian Actors Union threatened to boycott the Emirati festival if "The Band's Visit" was aired.
"It is clear that we will not participate in any Arab film festival if an Israeli film is shown," Ashraf Zaki, union secretary general, told AFP.
The weekly Rose Al-Youssef magazine, meanwhile, ran an article under the headline
"The Israeli squad was ready to attack the Arab festivals," charging that the bid to show the Israeli film at the Egyptian festival was part of what it called a well-orchestrated conspiracy to ignite a crisis within the local cultural scene.
The magazine said some in Egyptian artistic circles believed Culture Minister Farouk Hosni was ready to intervene in favor of Kolirin's film, as a way to polish his image as candidate for the post of chief of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (Unesco), though the ministry denied this.
The refusal to screen "The Band's Visit" is the latest episode in long-standing objections to normalizing cultural ties with Israel.
In August, Zaki launched a virulent attack against rising star Amr Waked for agreeing to perform alongside an Israeli actor and threatened to block him from working in Egypt.
Waked is to star as the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein' son-in-law in "Between Two Rivers," a television film currently in development, on the life of the late dictator played by Israeli actor Yigal Naor.
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