Egyptian director Yousry Nasrallah, in Cannes presenting a drama on his country’s revolution, defiantly vowed Thursday that the Islamists jockeying for power back home would never succeed in stifling art.
“Our presence here in Cannes is a wonderful message to all those who want to put an end to art in Egypt,” he told reporters after a press screening of “After the Battle” at the French Riviera film festival.
Egypt’s artists and liberals are concerned that the Islamists who have emerged as the strongest political force in the new Egypt will seek to stifle artistic freedom.
Veteran director Nasrallah’s two-hour film focuses on the messy aftermath of last year’s Arab Spring, when Cairo’s Tahrir Square was the epicenter of a revolt that led to the ousting of long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak.
The movie, one of 22 works in competition for the Palme d’Or top prize, kicks off with what came to be known as the Battle of the Camel, when men on horses and camels charged into the crowd of protestors.
It then homes in on one of the riders, anti-revolutionary Mahmoud, played by Bassem Samra, and his interaction with a middle-class, free-thinking young woman called Reem, played by Mena Shalaby.
The film touches on issues like class, gender and corruption and provides a portrait of the people of Nazlet, who live in the shadow of the pyramids and traditionally made their living off the tourist trade that dried up after the revolution.
Nasrallah told a press conference that he had funding in place for a film before last year’s revolution, but when the demonstrations started he realized he had to make a movie about it instead.
“Our emotions were focused on these events and I saw that this was the film,” said the director.
He worked on the Egyptian-French co-production without a script and persuaded his actors to take part without knowing where their roles would take them.
About his film being projected in Israel, Nasrallah said he did not want the movie to be sold there, believing that the country is “not an ally” of the Egyptian revolution.
“I do not know at all if the film was sold to Israel, but if you want my opinion, no, I do not want it to be. Not as long as the Israelis still occupy the Palestinian territories,” he said during the conference, as several journalists applauded.
Last year’s Cannes festival saw the controversial film “18 Days” premiered during a day honoring Egypt and its revolution.
The film, consisting of 10 shorts by different directors, covers the popular revolt that began on January 25 and led up to the fall of Mubarak’s regime after more than 30 years in power.
Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential elections are due on May 23-24, with the contest narrowing down to a choice between secularists linked to the old guard and Islamists who hope to repeat their success in parliamentary elections after Mubarak’s ouster.