The documentary film Azziara (The Visit, 2015), by Marouan Omara and Nadia Mounier in collaboration with Islam Kamal, was prevented from screening at the first edition of Zawya Cinema’s Arabic film festival Cairo Cinema Days on May 10. According to a statement made by the festival organizers, the film, which explores perceptions of the Egyptian countryside, was not granted approval from the Censorship Board. No reason was given for this move.
The 42-minute film is made up of footage from a documentary that Omara was commissioned to make by a German agricultural organization (which was eventually rejected by the commissioner), as well as footage of a World Bank visit to an Egyptian village, scenes in the Egyptian Agricultural Museum, and other segments that deconstruct stereotypes about the local media’s representations of rural life in Egypt.
The Visit was already shown in Egypt in 2016 at the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo, and at the Goethe Institut in Cairo and Alexandria. It was also shown at the Luxor African Film Festival last year.
Contradictory acts of censorship have been made at Beirut Cinema Days and Cairo Cinema Days, two like-minded festivals that are not directly franchised from one another. Lebanese filmmaker Roy Dib’s debut film The Beach House, which contains nudity and drug use, was not granted censorship approval at the Beirut festival, which took place in March, but is being screened in Cairo. Tamer El-Said’s In the Last Days of the City, about a Cairo filmmaker trying to make a film, had its regional premier in Beirut Cinema Days, yet it has not been granted approval to screen in Cairo. Magdy Ahmed Ali’s Mawlana, about an Egyptian televangelist and the relationship between politics and religion, was shown in Beirut. Some scenes were cut at the request of the Dar al-Fatwa, but it was commercially distributed without these edits in Cairo last year.
Omara, Mounier and Kamal have made the film available to watch online for the duration of Cairo Cinema Days until May 16. The views on the Vimeo link increased by 500, according to Omara, in two days – a number that exceeds the capacity of seats at Zawya’s cinema. It was set to screen alongside One Plus One Makes a Pharoah’s Chocolate Cake, made by Omara in collaboration with Kamal, as part of a retrospective of Omara in a series that attempts to highlight young filmmakers who are yet to complete their first feature films.