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25.11.2019 Europe

Police raid news outlet as Cairo film festival celebrates freedom of expression

By Anne-Marie Bissada - RFI
RFI / Anne-Marie Bissada
NOV 25, 2019 EUROPE

One of Egypt's remaining independent news outlet was raided on Monday after one if its editors had been arrested on Friday. This as the Cairo International Film Festival celebrates the different forms of expression on screen.

The office of online news outlet Mada Masr was raided  by nine plainclothes police officers according to a report by one of its senior editors. Three journalists were detained and then released several hours later in the evening.

A television crew from France 24 was also at the scene and witnessed the raid.

The journalists' release came as their editor, Shady Zalat, who was arrested on Friday, was also released on Sunday on a highway just outside the city.

“It's happening all over the region, it's unpredictable, we definitely lack consistency,” film critic and programmer Joseph Fahim said.

Freedom to express
In a region that has witnessed growing attempts to curtail freedom of expression, films have become a means to raise issues in a different way, film historian Magda Wassef said.

In Egypt, in particular, those clampdowns have become increasingly common.

“Abysmal, bad, depressing. It's definitely the worst in my lifetime,”  Fahim said of current state in Egypt.

He added: “I think lots has been written about the fact that [the] government is seizing production entirely. And through all of the conglomerates, and not just in film, in TV as well."

Even still, the film industry in Egypt, once the Hollywood of the Middle-East, North Africa region (MENA), is still healthy.

“Because movies do make money at the box office. Egyptian cinema is still the highest [producing], products are being sold to Saudi channels and the satellite channels in general," he said.

Smell of Freedom
Despite the inconsistent production across the region, there are some other bright points.

One industry that caught the eye of many film critics and cinephiles is that of Tunisia.

The Tunisian film industry  appears to have the right combination of freedom, support and creative know-how.

“It's amazing, it's audience are absolutely astounding, everything is sold out…You go there and you definitely smell the freedom of the city reflected in the movies.”

The situation is similar in Morocco, though the production rate is not as high. This year's big film Adam has already wowed international audiences and will represent Morocco in the Oscar's Foreign film category.

“The Maghreb in general, has had a better year, whether it's Morocco and Tunisia but also Algeria,” says Fahim

The key to much of the booming success in other countries has been co-production.

Many countries that don't have the financial support from the government, often enter into co-productions with France, or Germany.

Adam, for example, was a coproduction between Morocco, France and Serbia.

Another example of a country whose film industry is also is beginning to grow is Saudi Arabia.

Although a little behind the times, Riyadh opened its first public cinema last year.

That in turn set in motion its own film industry.
“Saudi Arabia also had an amazing year with three very remarkable movies,” notes the film critic.

He mentions the Saudi director debut film Scales which already won at the Venice International Film Festival and is in the Arab competition for the Cairo International Film Festival.

But the growth of these younger industries is coupled with the unpredictability of the times.

“It's happening all over the region. It's unpredictable. We definitely lack consistently. It's also we're operating under – apart from Tunis- we're also operating under a very precarious when it comes to censorship. So we don't know what's happening exactly.”