The renowned, award-wining Israeli film 'The Band’s Visit', which has garnered critical acclaim in film festivals around the world, is stirring up interest among Egyptian intellectuals as well, even though it has been officially banned in the country.
Egypt does not allow any public screening of the film, which tells the story of an Egyptian brass band which heads to Israel to perform at the opening ceremony of an Arab arts center and ends up stranded in a small, desolate Israeli town.
Behind closed doors, however, Egyptians are quietly circulating bootleg copies of the “forbidden” film, though no one would actually admit to having seeing it.
Not three months ago, the film was turned away by the Egyptian Film Festival in Abu Dhabi, following threats by the Egyptian Actors’ Union to boycott the festival should the Israeli film be screened.
“Granted Israel and Egypt have diplomatic ties,” said the director-general of the Egyptian Film Actors’ Union, Izzat Abu Off, “but these diplomatic ties are not applicable to us. We have made a sweeping, across the board decision to avoid any cultural ties with Israel.”
The film was given a far warmer reception, however, by the Egyptian magazine Egypt Today, which courageously devoted an entire feature article to the film.
Due to the ban on the film, the magazine could not actually review the movie, but their article did discuss the film’s plot in warm and congratulatory terms, listed all of the awards which the movie had won, and alluded to the fact the Egyptian band members strike up a friendship with Israeli residents of the desolate town in which they find themselves.
'A high quality movie'
The Egypt Today article goes on to state “if this sounds like a high quality movie to you, there is not doubt that this is indeed the case judging by the numerous international awards that the film had won.”
The magazine also notes that 'The Band’s Visit' director, Eran Kolirin, is a big fan of Egyptian cinema. That being said, the magazine informed readers that the banned film will not be showing in Egypt anytime soon.
Ashraf Zaki, the Egyptian Actors' Union Chairman, does not speak ill of the Israeli film. In an interview with Egypt Today, he explained that the actors’ union “had made a decision 30 years ago not to screen Israeli films at the festival, and not to participate in any events alongside Israeli movies.”
Abu Off echoes his sentiments, noting that “he had inherited this ban on Israeli movies. As long as Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world at large, this ban will not be removed.”
The Israeli embassy in Egypt has toyed with screening the film and inviting the actors to discuss it, but could not find a an auditorium willing to hold such an event.