Monthly Archives: November 2014

Censoring Movies in Egypt

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Written by: Alexandra Kinias

On its journey from birth to screen, Egyptian movies require triple permits before they see the light. The screenplay must first be approved before a shooting permit is issued. Before the movie is shot, the censorship bureau can demand the removal of scenes, tamper with the story or even change the title as happened with Cairo Exit which its initial title was Egypt Exit. Unless producers comply with such requirements, movies will forever remain on paper. Once a movie is shot, a screening permission must be granted. And as a final reminder of who has the upper hand, the bureau reserves the right to revoke the screening permit at any time and for any reason.

Refusing to comply with the requirements to change the faith of the female character, the screenplay Cairo Exit was not approved. In lieu of shooting permits, the movie was shot underground since carrying a film camera on the street of Cairo without a permit is a felony. In spite of the games of hide and seek played between the movie crew and policemen, in civilian clothes roaming the streets, the shooting was completed.

The first censorship law in Egypt was drafted on November 26, 1881 as a reaction to Ahmed Orabi’s revolution against the British occupation. To curb the freedom of press after nationalistic newspapers in support of the revolution flooded the market, control over the media was born. An amendment to the law was made in 1904 that included censorship over movies and theatrical performances. Prior to that date, movies that were screened in Egypt, since 1896, and theatrical performances were under the direct control and discretion of the police chief.

Against the belief of the masses, the censorship bureau was not essentially created to protect family values, but its objective was primary political to safeguard the government and its leaders. Unfortunately, nothing has changed since then. However, with the religious surge in Egypt, those who proclaimed themselves as custodians of morality rode the wave to benefit from the censorship that has assisted them in spreading their ideologies.

To silence the voices and switch off the brains of the people, censorship becomes essential for the existence of totalitarian regimes. With adding a tint of religious and family values to its objectives, no one dares to dispute its motives. It comes as no surprise that movie censorship thrived under the reign of Mubarak’s corrupt regime.

To safeguard moral and family values, countries worldwide have instituted the rating system whose purpose is to alert viewing audiences of the contents which maybe objectionable to some. However, banning movies, to stop people from watching them is a common practice of totalitarian control. It is an insult to assume that people are unable to think for themselves and thus need the guidance from decision makers to tell them what they should watch, or how they should think and behave.

As in other countries, Egypt also has its own inconvenient truths embedded in the society such as female genital mutilation, sex out of wedlock, women who turn to prostitution for a living or interfaith relationships. Banning movies that discuss such issues on the basis that they defame the society is a form of mental manipulation as denial of an existing problem is a delusional approach to solve it. On the contrary such important social issues require people’s awareness rather than wishing them away. Only when addressed, then they may be resolved.

In addition to that, the ban of movies or books resulted in restricting creativity which unfortunately doesn’t come with an operating manual with guidelines to follow. Over the years, censorship has achieved nothing but an overall decline of talents.

It is ironic to see the books that were published in Egypt in the early twentieth century are being banned in the twenty first century. No wonder that when the dispels of the cultural renaissance of the twenties and thirties in Egypt, like Abbas Mahmoud Al- Akkad and Nagub Mahfouz, two of Egypt’s notable writers, took responsibility of the censorship bureau, Egypt’s cinema witnessed its golden age. The set back of the Egyptian movie industry happened with the revolution of 1952 when the industry was nationalized and censorship escalated to protect the revolution.

Today’s censorship officials in Egypt are the sons of the era that witnessed the cultural decline. Their qualifications are not important anymore because the job description nor longer requires creativity and talent, but total submission to the regime’s doctrine.

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Black Tulips from Screenplay to Novel

Fullscreen capture 10302013 112011 PM.bmp While I was organizing my computer files, I came across this article that I had written in 2011 for the Arizona Authors Association and where I had talked about the adjustments I had made in  my writing career.

Black Tulips from  Screenplay to Novel (original article)

“The decision to adapt one of my screenplays to a novel was as unpredictable as the characters I create. Novels are usually adapted to screenplays not the other way around. I had already gone through a mid-course adjustment when I dumped my engineering career and picked up screenplay writing.

The culmination of the classes and workshops I had attended equipped me with enough knowledge to create my first project. Tens of drafts later, my first screenplay ‘Lonely Hearts’, which I wrote clandestinely while still working to spare the engineer inside me the embarrassment of getting caught, was ready. It was sold to a production company in Egypt, but due to financial difficulties, it was never produced. My second screenplay ‘Cairo Exist’–which I co-wrote–did see the light and received international recognition, but was banned in Egypt because of its controversial story. A woman getting pregnant out of wedlock after having an affair with an out of faith boyfriend is not an issue that receives nods from the censorship bureau. ‘Leila’s World’, one of my favorite screenplays, was short-listed in Rawi Screenwriter’s Lab in 2010. The Jordanian screen writing development workshop is modeled around the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and differs only in that it focuses solely on Arab screenplay writers. ‘Leila’s World’ discusses religious tolerance, yet another subject not well received in that part of the world.

More than a handful other screenplays were written between ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘Leila’s World’. The files in my computer looked impressive, I have to admit. Unfortunately, I knew that if no action was taken, they would be forever buried there along with hundreds of characters and plots.

Growing up in Egypt had influenced me to write ‘Black Tulips,’ a screenplay about women. It tells the story of four women from various social standards but who share the same hardships of living in a male dominant society. Another controversial story that was doomed to the same fate as the others. After several uneventful attempts to convince producers, it became obvious that my characters would spend the rest of their lives in my hard disk. Screenplay writing was indeed a labor of passion that I had invested a lot of time and money into it, but another readjustment to my career, even as it sounded insane, was necessary. And since I perpetually surprise myself, my curiosity to witness the outcome overshadowed any hesitation born out of reason.

Black Tulips, the movie, was vivid in my mind. I realized that getting a movie produced is like chasing rainbows, yet publishing a book can be less complicated. The women in Egypt deserved to have their stories told. That was the decisive factor to adapt the screenplay to a novel, but I needed to know how to put it down on paper for people to read. Intimidated by the task, I needed the assistance of a writing coach to properly present it to the world. My quest to save the characters from the inevitable fate that awaited them inside my hard drive led me to the doorstep of the writing coach, Pamella’s Goodfellow’s.

Writing a novel required different skills than writing a screenplay and the process to rewire my brain was challenging and grinding. After years of writing scenes in four lines, it wasn’t easy to expand them into one thousand words. The worst challenge was that some characters were not cooperative. They needed time and space, they said.

While still negotiating with the characters, I created my blog, silenced voices, wasted lives, which reflected the challenges that my female characters encountered in their daily lives. Black Tulips is fiction, but the stories in the blog are real. Because gender is their adversary, Egyptian women from all walks of life are subjected to the same abuse and challenges. No one is spared because of her status or wealth.

Moreover, injecting emotions into the scenes of Black Tulips didn’t come as easy as I had anticipated. Most characters were just comfortable the way they were and resisted the emotional exposure. After begging, warning, threatening, encouraging and often bribing them with chocolate cakes, ice creams and free movies tickets, they finally opened up and allowed me to probe deeper into their souls.”

Writing my first novel has been among the most interesting experiences in my life, indeed a journey to remember.

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