The screening of the Egyptian film crowned at the Cannes Film Festival “Rishes” at the El Gouna Festival sparked a great deal of controversy after three actors left the theater, accusing the film of insulting Egypt. Reactions to the film and anger from it differed, creating a crisis that prompted the El Gouna Festival to clarify its position in an official statement.
This is the second time that the film Riches, directed by Omar Al-Zuhairi, has topped the headlines and the talk of those interested in cinema.
The first time was when the film won the Critics’ Grand Prix at the Cannes International Film Festival, and the Egyptian government and people celebrated it at that time.
The second time was when it was shown the day before yesterday at the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt.
A director and three actors left the show and others expressed their displeasure with the film because, in their view, it “discredits Egypt”.
The discussion, which was supposed to be purely artistic, about the film developed into a politicized debate in which accusations and insults were exchanged and spread from the exhibition hall in El Gouna to the various media and communication, all the way to Parliament.
The crisis triggered by the film prompted the El Gouna Film Festival, in which the film is participating in its official competition, to issue a statement saying that the selection of the film “Feathers” “was consistent with the criteria for selecting films at the festival, based on its successes in some international forums, whether it was awarded The Grand Prix of the International Critics’ Week in the largest international festivals “Cannes” Festival, which is the first Egyptian film to receive such a prestigious award.
The name most associated with the controversy surrounding the topic is the name of the actor Sherif Mounir, who left the cinema hall with the start of the special screening of the movie Riches in El Gouna.
So did the actors Ahmed Rizk and Ashraf Abdel Baqi.
Mounir said in an interview with the media, Amr Adib, that watching the movie tired him, and that the “torment” and “filth” in which the family depicted in the film lives is exaggerated.
Mounir said that the slums “that existed previously” “must turn eyes away from them in the new republic.”
Mounir attributed the reason for his anger at the film to his “zeal for his country, Egypt.”
Mounir expressed his dislike of the film, even from a technical point of view, and was surprised that the film was awarded international awards.
The reasons that other artists justified their anger at the film did not differ from the reason presented by Sherif Mounir: “The film harms Egypt’s reputation and denies the state’s efforts to improve conditions in it.”
The controversy surrounding the film developed to the extent that parliamentarian Ahmed Mhenni said that he would request a briefing to the Speaker of Parliament and the Minister of Culture regarding the screening of the movie “The Feathers” that “offends Egypt, as it does not present the true image of Egypt, and helps distort Egypt’s internal image globally.”
The film was accused of denigrating Egypt for presenting an image of a family living in extreme poverty, but the Egyptian state itself has never said that it has eradicated poverty in Egypt.
What was recently announced about the decline in poverty rates does not mean its elimination, nor does it mean that there are no poor people living on the land of Egypt.
But those angry with the film say that it is better for cinema, especially those that are spread abroad, to highlight “achievements and successes” and the positives rather than the negatives.
In the world of cinema and art, this is an old, ever-renewing debate, not only related to cinema, but art in general, and there is a dispute over the role of cosmetic, entertainment and marketing art, and between art its role is to shed light on what must be changed.
It is said that cinema is the mirror of reality, and the difference over the film Feathers here is actually a difference about reality itself, each one sees from his geographical, political and artistic location as well.
Who said he is talking about Egypt now?
The film does not specify a spatial framework or even significant names for the characters in it, and the filming locations are made decorations, some of which are additions to the graphics technology.
But it is an Egyptian movie with Egyptian capabilities and an Egyptian accent. Does this necessarily mean that the movie is about Egypt now?
No! It is the short answer of a number of defenders of the film and its director, as no one said that what is happening in the film is a contemporary Egyptian reality.
The movie is basically not realistic if you look at the story of his hero turning into a chicken.
Film producer Mohamed Hefzy, who is the president of the Cairo Film Festival, defended the film Riches in an intervention with Amr Adib, on the other hand, Sherif Mounir.
Hefzy said that different points of view are healthy, and the film, all its details, from Omar Al-Zuhairi’s “creation” are devoid of temporal and spatial frameworks, and it talks about a human situation that can exist at any time.
Journalist Yasmine Mahfouz also wrote in a tweet that the film does not specify the country or the era in which the events take place.
The angry talk about “the film’s insult to Egypt’s reputation” and the treachery of its makers and accusing them of deliberately “destroying the state’s efforts” was met with ridicule by many of those who interacted with the subject.
As for the “serious” responses to the accusations against the film and its makers, the film’s attackers were accused of “security”, a term that includes “loyalty to the authority and the security services.”
While the journalist Sabah Hamam and described the position that denies the existence of the state of poverty depicted in the film as a “logical escape.”
Artwork resides artistically
Many defenders of the film Feather, especially those in the artistic field, say that the film is a work of art that should be evaluated on this basis, away from political connotations.
Film critic Magda Khairallah said that Omar Al-Zuhairi’s movie “Rishes” is “a piece of pure creativity in terms of narration style, image formations, and dealing with a group of actors, none of whom has ever stood in front of the camera.”
Between this and that, the film Feathers remains exceptional for Egypt because it is the first Egyptian feature film to win an award at the Cannes Festival, and it is the first feature film by its director Omar Al-Zuhairi.
Also, because it is a different type of cinema that falls within the school of the absurd, and the story in which a man turns into a chicken reminds us of the novel, which is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature, “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, in which the hero “Gregor Samsa” wakes up to find himself transformed into an insect.
The film features unknown actors posing for the first time in front of the camera.
The makers of the work do not assign names to the characters in the film, which makes it adaptable to different spatial, temporal and social frameworks.
The BBC Cinematheque program had previously hosted Omar Al-Zuhairi, director of the movie Riches, who spoke about the film and its meanings in detail: