Re: [Videolib] Arabic/Egyptian films, & impact of censorship

Pat Shufeldt (
Wed, 03 Aug 2005 22:23:54 -0400

As I recall, it was Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski who commented that
it was actually easier to make good films under the Communist censors than to do
so in a capitalist setting. Under Communist rule, the government provided
monetary support for filmmaking, so one was freed from the burden of constantly
raising funds to make films. That allowed a director to concentrate on the art
of filmmaking, and encouraged directors to find creative methods of telling
stories in ways to get them past the censors.

In an interview for the Criterion DVD release of TASTE OF CHERRY, Iranian film
director Abbas Kiarostami commented: "I can say that for me censorship did not
affect my work before or after the revolution. . . To me what they refer to now
as censorship in Iran should mostly be considered religious restrictions.
Censorship normally happens when there are no set rules. Some people may decide
to eliminate scenes from movies. . . Generally speaking, I can't say that we
don't censor ourselves. But I can say that we find out about the rules pretty
quickly, and then we are able to adjust ourselves to the circumstances and make
our films. I've really made the movies that I've wanted to make up to now. I
haven't made any of them simply because I wanted to circumvent the codes, and
turn a banal story into a movie. . .

"The problem of censorship has always existed. Especially when I'm outside of
Iran, usually the first or second question asked has to do with censorship. In
the West, when I'm asked about censorship in Iran, I get offended. They think we
are some Third World country with some sort of incredible censorship and we work
under terrible conditions. But when I think about it, I realize that we've
always had to face the problem of censorship not just as filmmakers, but even as
citizens of Iran. We've always had censorship. It starts in our families when
we can't speak our minds. Because our parents decide what's right and wrong for
us. In the schools, there is even harsher discipline - all sorts of educational
censorship. And that continues until it finds its place in our professions -
the filmmaker's profession, for example. So in my mind, censorship is not
something that bothers us terribly, because we found our ways to counter it.

"In fact, the whole nation has learned how to deal with it, have learned how to
circumvent any imposing force and somehow manage. This is a reality.
Especially in our case, our cinema is a director's medium. And the more a
filmmaker comes under pressure due to the nature of his work, the more he is
forced to come up with better solutions and find new means of expression. . .

"I never speak about censorship outside of Iran, especially for foreign
reporters. Often I ask them: don't you have your own censorship? The
government censors but also provides financial assistance. Because of the
positive outlook that I have had in recent years in my personal and professional
life, I tend to say that I for one don't have much of a problem with
censorship. Not that I endorse it, but I simply say to the censors, you do your
job and we'll do ours. In the final analysis, it's our work that survives."

Pat Shufeldt
Greenville, SC

Milos Stehlik wrote:

> I would like to echo Alex's statements. Censorship or no censorship, by far
> the best representations of Middle East and North Africa come from the
> filmmakers of those countries. Yes, Youssef Chahine has battled with
> Egyptian censorship (as Gary Daniels points out in his paper) all of his
> life and most recently with The Emigrant -- nevertheless, one of the very
> best films about fundamentalism is his film THE DESTINY - equally applicable
> to fundamentalism in any form.
> These are often brave films made by courageous filmmakers battling against
> great odds and should be supported by us always. Try Merzak ALlouache's
> Bab-el-Oued City or the work of so many Middle Eastern and North African
> women filmmakers - Tahmineh Milani, Moufida Tlatli, Rakshan Bani-Etemad.
> One might even argue that the censorship restrictions and the difficulty of
> getting their films approved (but censorship is everywhere, including here
> in the USA, with economic censorship as potent as political) has led to the
> development of bold new ways of storytelling and film language, helping us
> see with new eyes.
> Milos Stehlik
> Facets Multi-Media, Inc.
> 1517 West Fullerton Avenue
> Chicago, IL 60614 USA
> Voice: 1-773-281-9075
> FAX: 1-773-929-5437
> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> [] On Behalf Of John Sinno
> Sent: Wednesday, August 03, 2005 7:12 PM
> To: Gary Daniels;
> Subject: re: [Videolib] Arabic/Egyptian films-
> As a distributor of films from and about the Middle East & North Africa, I
> would like to point out that there are thousands of wonderful films from
> Arab/Muslim countries that provide vivid and truthful representations of
> what daily life is like for people living in that part of the world.
> While it's true that government censors keep a close watch over film
> production in many Arab and Muslim countries, censorship rules are different
> in each country, so one must be careful not to generalize. Arab directors
> such as Yousef Chahine, Atef Hetata, Yousry Nasrallah, Nouri Bouzid and
> Nabil Ayouch (to name just a few) have found ways to subvert film production
> censorship rules to examine complex topics such as religion, sexuality,
> gender issues, poverty and government bureaucracy. Iranian filmmakers such
> as Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Tahmineh Milani and Mijid Mijidi
> have, in recent years, created some of the masterpieces of world cinema
> while filming under the restrictions enforced by their government.
> Even when Arab filmmakers aren't challenging censorship rules, their films
> provide truthful representations of daily life in the Arab world. To suggest
> otherwise is like saying that, because of the restrictions set by the
> Hollywood Production Code (1934-1967), American films from the 1940s and
> '50s don't provide truthful representations of American life during that
> era.
> Alex Williams
> Arab Film Distribution
> FROM: Gary Daniels <>
> TO:
> DATE: Wed, 03 Aug 2005 17:26:14 -0400
> SUBJECT: Re: [Videolib] Arabic/Egyptian films-
> As a filmmaker, I would like to point out the fact that all films shot
> in the Middle East (and all Muslim countries, in fact) are subject to
> heavy censorship and government approval. All scripts pass through a
> government censor and government officials travel with the film crew and
> monitor everything they do. The final edited video must also pass
> through the government censors. Thus, if you show films from this
> region, you should always remind your students that they are not
> watching a completely truthful representation. They are only seeing what
> the government of the country represented wants the world to see.
> I wrote two research papers on this topic-- one covering censorship in
> Egypt and another in Malaysia. You can read them at this link if you
> want to know the reality of what you're showing your students:
> -gary
> Andrea Traubner wrote:
> > Filmakers Library has a large collection of films on the Middle East.
> > They are listed on our web site in the
> > index under Middle East Studies. If there is a particular interest in
> > films on Egypt, please look at UP AT DAWN (about child labor in Egypt)
> > THE DIFFERENCES which is part of the Women in the Arab World series
> >
> >
> > Sue Oscar
> > Filmakers Library, Inc.
> > 124 E. 40th Street
> > Suite 901
> > New York, NY 10016
> > Phone:212-808-4980
> > Fax:212-808-4983
> >
> >
> >
> > On Tuesday, August 2, 2005, at 01:27 PM, Mary Lou Neighbour wrote:
> >
> > Hello, all!
> >
> > I am writing to ask the collective wisdom of this list for
> > titles of fairly current cinematic films from Arab countries
> > which show daily life. We have a history professor who is
> > interested in making them available to his students so that
> > they can appreciate the cultures of the Middle East. He is
> > particularly interested in films from Egypt. Any suggestions
> > would be most welcome.
> >
> > Mary Lou Neighbour
> > AV Librarian
> > Montgomery County Community College
> > 340 De Kalb Pike
> > Blue Bell, PA 19422
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > Videolib mailing list
> >
> >
> >
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