Filmmaker Amir Ramses has confirmed that Egypt's National Security apparatus has delayed the screening of 'Jews of Egypt,' a documentary film that tells the stories of Egyptian Jews living in exile since the 1950s.
According to Ramses and film producer Haitham El-Khameesy, the National Security apparatus wants to watch the documentary one more time before it is shown in Egyptian cinemas.
In a Tuesday statement on Facebook, El-Khameesy explained that, despite the film's having twice been cleared by the state's official censorship body (once for the Panorama Film Festival and once for the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January), he was told on Tuesday morning that Egypt's security apparatus needed to view the film for a third time.
The latest development means the film will not open in Egyptian cinemas on Wednesday, as had originally been scheduled.
According to El-Khameesy, the film's production company first obtained approval for filming after Egypt's official censorship body reviewed the manuscript in 2010. In advance of the film's avant-première at the Panorama Film Festival last October, co-producer Maryan Khoury also applied for a screening license, which she obtained from Egypt's general censorship authority after the latter screened the film.
El-Khameesy says that in late 2012, the culture minister contacted Khoury and requested a meeting with Ramses. A "friendly" meeting subsequently took place between the director and the minister, according to El-Khameesy, in which the latter solicited details about the movie and requested a copy.
The film had initially been scheduled for release on Wednesday, 13 March in three Egyptian theatres: Nile City, Sun City and St. Stefano. But on Tuesday, 12 March, censorship committee director Abd El-Satar Fathi told El-Khameesy that Egypt's security apparatus wanted to see the film again, despite the earlier censorship clearance.
"I therefore announced the delay of the film's screening until we can find a solution to this mysterious problem, which has existed for years within the framework of Egypt’s security apparatus and which is meant to terrorise thought and oppress creativity," reads the Facebook statement.
The film's producer and director are holding "all relevant agencies" accountable for the delay, including Egypt's culture ministry, the Supreme Council for Culture and the General Censorship Authority, along with the interior ministry and the National Security apparatus.
El-Khameesy is also threatening to take legal action against the above institutions for alleged financial losses incurred due to the delay of the film's opening.
'Jews of Egypt' was largely self-funded by Ramses and El-Khameesy after the two decided that Arab or non-Arab sponsorship would threaten the film's artistic integrity.
Meanwhile, censorship committee director Abd El-Satar Fathi, denies halting the screening of “Jews of Egypt” in an interview with Al-Ahram Arabic website, saying he “supported the film all along."
Fathi explains that when El Khameesy visited his office on Monday 11 March, to pick up the renewed permit for public screening, merely two days before the scheduled release of the film and after he had “prematurely booked the movie theaters ahead of receiving the permit, which is against the proper order of affairs” – he requested the work file for the film. That was when the censorship committee director found a note from national security that prohibits the screening of the film “because it is a documentary.”
Fathi then contacted national security to ask for details. He was told that “the film’s title might cause public uproar, particularly after Essam El-Erian’s statements on Jews, and in light of the tension on the street.”
A while back, Muslim Brotherhood leader El-Erian called for Israelis of Egyptian ancestry to return to Egypt, a statement that stirred up a great deal of controversy.
Fathi says he is still waiting to hear back from national security about the screening.