الرقابة والسينما الأخرى: شهادة رقيب / Censorship and the Other Cinema: Testimony of a Censor
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Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
[The author of the article, a legal expert and a judge, known for his critical interest in cinema, held the position of official censor on filmic productions in Egypt twice in the sixties for a cumulative period of two years. In this testimony, he explains the nature of laws enacted first by the British authorities when Egypt was a protectorate, and later those laws enacted in 1955 and 1992 that regulate the making and public showing of films. Darwish points out that in contrast to other domains of creativity, the director of a film has to undergo two separate censorial tests: once before he/she even starts and again once the product is finished. Other artists-be they painters or writers-have to abide by censorship rules once they have created their work, while cinematic production has to be approved even before starting to shoot and no changes in the course of work are allowed for. These laws leave very little room for creativity. Political, religious and sexual taboos play a prominent role in excluding practically all the major scenes of private and public life from representation on the screen, thus constricting the margin of creativity. Furthermore, beside the published laws, there are unpublished regulations-issued by the Office of Publicity and Guidance (under the Ministry of Social Affairs)-which have been effective since 1947. These regulations specify in detail the prohibitions and further constrict the creative space of visual representation. The author gives examples from his own experience as a censor, trying to promote films of quality within this restrictive space, yet pressured into banning them. These pressures came sometimes from auto-censorship, as in the film The Mailman (Al-Bostagi), based on the novella of Yahya Haqqi, the well-known Egyptian writer. The novelist Sabry Moussa, who wrote the scenario for the film, chose to suppress completely the religious identity of the characters, thus denying the cinematic rendition not only fidelity to the original but also artistic coherence. Despite the Censor's request to clarify the religious affiliations of the characters (which are spelled out in the novella) in order to allow the complications in the plot to cohere, the scenarist stuck to his position because of the terrorizing authority of censorship and the unease felt over religious subjects. Even the documentary film about the Nile undertaken by John Feeney, the New Zealander, had its problems. He shot scenes in Upper Egypt, where peasants used traditional technology, but these scenes were deemed disparaging of a country committed to modernism and were viewed as a foreign filmmaker's belittlement of a country set on industrial progress. Showing his rushes, Feeney appealed to the Censor's Office to support artistic integrity against the demands made by no less than the Minister of Culture to refashion the film. Eventually, the director was allowed to show scenes of traditional Egypt on the condition that he would include shots of a ballet in the Cairo Opera House-in an effort to display modernity. A weird compromise was thus reached, not called for by censorship but by considerations of public relations. The third example disclosed is The Rebels (Al-Mutamarridun), directed by Tewfik Saleh, a film which was interpreted by some as an allegorical critique of the military regime of Egypt. Darwish stood behind it and refused to abide by the directive of the Minister of Culture to remove a decisive scene. However, Darwish was soon removed from the position of Censor and the film was heavily cut. Another well-known film that Darwish backed was The Mummy (Al-Mumiya'), directed by Shadi Abdel Salam. Pressures were coming from all directions not to approve the scenario of the film and mostly on the grounds that it would incur commercial losses, as was claimed by the head of The Agency of Cinematic Production. Darwish countered by explaining that economic considerations were not within the domain of censorship-which is supposed to consider only the message of the work and not its possible commercial success or failure. Darwish swiftly approved the project before further delays could prevent its production.]
(1995). الرقابة والسينما الأخرى: شهادة رقيب / Censorship and the Other Cinema: Testimony of a Censor. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 91–98.
"الرقابة والسينما الأخرى: شهادة رقيب / Censorship and the Other Cinema: Testimony of a Censor." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 15, 1995, pp. 91–98.