Censure et cinéma : positions à Dubaï
décembre 2010 | Faits de société | Cinéma/TV | Émirats arabes unis


When it comes to dealing with censors, says independent Egyptian producer Sherif Mandour, ‘we have a trick. When we have a political film, we add 10 percent of rubbish – lots of nudity, bad words – so they can ask us to cut it. They have to cut something. It’s their job.’ Mandour, whose latest film, ‘Cairo Exit’, had its world premiere at DIFF last night, was speaking at the Dubai Film Forum’s industry panel, ‘Freedom to Create’. The panel dealt with the challenges of navigating state censorship systems throughout the Middle East.

The levels of stringency vary considerably. ‘What’s completely wrong in Iran might be accepted in Egypt and commonplace in Lebanon,’ Mansour said. In Egypt, failure to comply with protocols of script approval and shooting permits can result in two years in jail, though this is rarely implemented. Such permissions are often granted retrospectively, though sometimes with accompanying demands for alterations.

Such a ‘compromise’ system is also common in Lebanon, according to The Beirut Metropolis cinema’s Hania Mroue, also a programmer for Tribeca Doha and Beirut film festivals and part of a group of Lebanese cultural leaders mounting a legal challenge to censorship. ‘We’re known as the country of free expression in the Middle East so for the government it’s very bad to have an article saying ‘censorship bans this film’,’ she added. ‘Their answer is: ‘People in Lebanon are not ready to talk about this and if you start, people will attack you.
It’s for your own good. » The experience of Beirut-based documentary-maker Katia Saleh suggests some grounding to this. Saleh made a documentary for Al Jazeera about young romance against the backdrop of a ritual of blood and self-flagellation in southern Lebanon. After she posted the trailer on YouTube, she received threats and felt unable to let the broadcast go ahead. ‘My own people wouldn’t accept it but it has won prizes around the world.’ Since then, Saleh has produced the Arab world’s first web drama series, ‘Shankaboot’, whose online status sidesteps many issues. The BBC World Service backs the series. ‘They said, ‘Let’s talk about everything the youth can’t see [on approved platforms]: corruption, prostitution, domestic violence, drugs, homosexuality, sexuality in general.’ The censors haven’t got us yet. We still have to submit the script and they tell us to be careful but we ignore them and they don’t watch it.’ ‘It’s a bit more complicated in Iran,’ said Sepideh Farsi, an Iranian filmmaker based in Paris. Her film ‘The House Under the Water’ receives its world premiere at DIFF 2010. ‘If you shoot without a permit, usually you cannot get a permit afterwards so you can’t screen it in the country, and if you take it out of the country you’ll be banned [from further production].’ The restrictions on content are also tighter. ‘In Iran, very quickly you hit the wall,’ Farsi said. ‘A woman showing a bit of hair or a bit of her neck, men and women just touching hands is impossible. And for actors being in a film that gets censored blocks the rest of their career. It’s a mixture of personal ego, bureaucracy and of course political censorship.’ Winning international awards can embarrass censors into retroactively approving an unofficial project. This happened with Egyptian director Ibrahim el Batout’s debut feature, ‘Ithaki’. El Batout argued that censorship cannot succeed. ‘They’re trying to stop people seeing what they see every day. It’s a very surreal human exercise. It’s like saying you can live without breathing or you can think but not imagine. It has no efficiency.’ Yet limitations of any kind can yield inventive approaches. ‘It’s not a good thing but it does make you to some extent more creative,’ Farsi acknowledged. ‘But it’s a dangerous thing to say: ‘censorship makes me a better artist’.’
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