Egypt film on poverty ruffles feathers triggering patriotic backlash

Veteran actor Sherif Moneer, who walked out of a screening at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival this month, has led a patriotic backlash against the film for “presenting Egypt negatively”. But others have praised director Omar El Zohairy for shedding light on a genuine social problem in a way that is both artistic and constructive.

On late Friday at the closing ceremony of the fifth edition of the El Gouna Film Festival, “Feathers” won the award for best Arab narrative film. For me any artistic work will always generate differing views,” a beaming Zohairy told AFP on the red carpet, addressing the issue after claiming the prize.

“The film is more important than any award,” the director said. “The film is strong because of its feeling, artistic authenticity… and human values. Feathers” tells the story of Om Mario (Mario’s mother), a poor woman from the rural south who struggles to make ends meet after her husband is transformed into a chicken.

The absurdist narrative is performed by an amateur cast, mostly from the country’s Coptic Christian minority. It was the first Egyptian feature film to win a major award at the star-studded Cannes Film Festival this year.

The film’s opponents, who also include pro-government lawmakers, accuse Zohairy of creating an exaggerated image of squalor that bears no relation to contemporary Egypt. The slums that we had and those that are disappearing now are better than the scenes represented in the film,” Moneer, the actor, said in a television interview this week.

“The state has made great strides in eliminating slums and moving people to excellent alternative furnished housing… We are in a new republic now.” Loyalist MP Mahmud Badr took to Twitter to condemn the “making of a movie depicting your country as if there was no development. Samir Sabry, a lawyer with a penchant for suing critics of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, filed a lawsuit against the film’s producers for “insulting Egypt and Egyptians”.

Economic rights researcher Osama Diab said the film’s depiction of poverty was by no means exaggerated, based on the government’s own figures. Around one in three of Egypt’s 100 million people live below the poverty line.

Source: France

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