Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Egyptian Film to Explore Homosexuality

Although Egyptian cinema, since its inception, has presented many homosexual characters, most of these have been comic devices inserted to generate a few cheap laughs. The only serious portrayals of homosexuality have been through a few minor characters in a handful of Egyptian films like Salah Abou Seif's Malatili Bathhouse (1973), Youssef Chahine's Alexandria Trilogy (1980's), Asmaa Bakry's Mendicants et Orgueilleux (1991), Yousry Nasrallah's Mercedes (1993), and Marwan Hamed’s The Yacoubian Building (2007).

However, these were presented in a manner so subtle as to often be detected only by the initiated. The Egyptian Underground Film Society (EUFS), a group of artists and intellectuals seeking a creative outlet away from political restrictions, has just completed its first production, All My Life, which falls firmly into the category of Queer Cinema. Its protagonists are gay men seen facing persecution and discrimination, particularly in the wake of the 2001 witch-hunts against them; the most famous incident being the Queen Boat arrests in which 52 alleged homosexuals were tried in a national security court.

According to the film's director/screenwriter Maher Sabry, "We all build fences around ourselves to protect ourselves from pain; that's why it's easy, when we see others treated unjustly, to assume that they must have done something to deserve punishment. It's especially easy if they believe differently from us or live a lifestyle we don't approve of. Then it comes round to us, and others say the same.. and so on until we all know what it feels like to be oppressed."

With the rise of the wave of conservatism in Egypt and the Arab world in recent years, artists have become increasingly unable to tackle a number of subjects that were dealt with in Egyptian cinema in the past. Last year, following the screening of Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building, 112 members of the Egyptian Parliament - one-quarter of the total - signed a petition demanding the removal of the scenes portraying the only homosexual character in the film. And yet, the portrayal of the gay character in Yacoubian Building is tame compared to the one in The Malatili Bathhouse in 1973, more than thirty years earlier.

All My Life, a product of guerrilla filmmaking, attempts to break away from the taboos imposed by Egyptian censorship, sexual, social and political. According to the director, "Censorship is a knife in the heart of any artistic movement. The censor treats me like a child, telling me, as a person, what to read, what to hear, what to watch, and therefore how to think, how to express myself. All this is done in the name of "protecting the public interest" but in fact it is "protecting power-holders and political interests". Censorship only flourishes in countries with corrupt and tyrannical governments afraid of a rise in public awareness; it guarantees the maintenance of the status quo. Just as the Internet revolution has opened the door to people to express themselves uncensored, so the digital filmmaking revolution has given me the same opportunity. I knew from the start that my movie would never officially be allowed a public screening; but I'm confident that people will see it, because where there is corruption, video piracy is all the rage. When the festivals are over, it'll be for sale on the sidewalks like all banned films. This way, I know I may not recoup the money I spent on the film, but at least I'll have achieved self-fulfillment."

Find out more about the film here. We do not currently know if All My Life is scheduled for release in the UK.

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