In the Egyptian film, Take Care of Zouzou, Souad Hosny plays a student paying her way through university by secretly moonlighting as a bellydancer, only to fall in love with her handsome -- and engaged -- professor, played by Hussein Fahmy. The Egyptian film star was in London for a special screening of the 1971 classic.
Al Arabiya caught up with Fahmy who commented on the pressure some Egyptian actors are facing, with stars like Adel Imam being accused of offending Islam through their movie roles.
“There is a threat definitely, but we are not going to be threatened - we are fighting it. These are new trends we are hearing lately, we haven’t heard this before. These very loud voices that are accusing Egyptian cinema and Egyptian artists with all sorts of accusations are not acceptable and we are not going to accept it we are fighting it and we continue fighting it,” actor Hussein Fahmy said.
The screening of Take Care of Zouzou is part of a festival of popular Arab cinema that includes oldies like Yousef Chahine’s ‘Alexandria Why?’, modern classics like the ‘Youcoubian Building’, and newer offerings including Lebanon’s ‘Bosta’ and ‘Stray Bullet’.
“What we wanted to do is show people an authentic slice of Arab cinema. Our aim is to give British audiences an entry point into a different kind Arab cinema, one that isn’t necessarily tied to the political connotations of the current socio-political condition, but one that talks about the breadth of popular culture as an artistic form,” Omar Kholeif, curator of ‘Safar’ Arab Cinema Festival.
The festival comes at a time when the Arab film industry is facing headwinds from many directions, the global economic slowdown is making funding harder to come by and the rise of new technology like smart phones and tablet devices is changing the way we watch movies, with more consumers streaming videos online and less people going to the cinema.
Closer to home, the film industry is also facing challenges with the rise of Islamist governments and the spread of more conservative religious discourse.
“Art makes people scared, extremists scared. Our Challenge is to keep on existing while we scare those people who are maybe sometimes getting power,” Philippe Aractingi, director of ‘Bosta’, said.
That is why some experts say filmmakers have a responsibility and key role to play.
“I believe we are approaching a crisis, we haven’t reached a crisis just yet. The reason for this is I because believe the time has never been more crucial for Arab filmmakers and artists and visionaries and the creative practitioners from that part of the world to show the real face of the Arab world and the Muslim world,” film expert and executive director of Quinta Communications, Alia Jaafar, said.
One actor taking his responsibility very seriously is Khaled Abdalla who appeared in Hollywood films dealing with serious issues like Afghanistan and 9/11.
“You are faced with a series of questions about what you are prepared to do and what you are not prepared to do with roles. There are many films which I have been offered or have asked me to audition which I’ve refused on the grounds that I find insulting or offensive or mis-representative. On the other hand, there are films which have tacked difficult issues – 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq and now even the situation in Egypt. Those difficult issues, I believe, we have a duty to really grapple with,” he said.
Londoners who missed the Arab cinema festival will be able to get their next fix of Arab movies in the upcoming London film festival starting in October.