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Egyptian filmmakers pull-out of Toronto festival in protest

CAIRO: Controversy abounds at the Toronto Film Festival after Ahmed Maher, the Egyptian directof of “The Traveler” pulled his film from the lineup in protest of the festival’s spotlight on Israel. The move has been received in Egypt with much praise, signaling the ongoing fight against any normalization with Israel, whether political or cultural.

First-time director Ahmed Abdallah also withdrew his film “Heliopolis” from the schedule, protesting the presentation of 10 films on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, which is being featured as part of the “City to City” program.

The controversy gained steam after Maher’s decision to withdraw his film, which was produced by the Egyptian ministry of culture, screened and nominated at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month. It is still unclear whether Maher’s decision to revoke the film will force it from the viewers.

Festival co-director Cameron Bailey lauded the Egpytian filmmakers for “having a really strong year, addressing tough issues of their society and telling good stories,” according to statements in local newspapers.

Egypt has a long history of anti-normalization with Israel, especially culturally. A number of Israeli productions have been banned from showing at the Cairo International Film Festival and even Egyptian actor Amr Waked was criticized and condemned for acting alongside an Israeli actor in a BBC production on Saddam Hussein. He was threatened with being kicked out of the actors guild in Egypt.

Bailey had singled out both “Heliopolis” and “The Traveller,” as well as Cairo-born filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah’s “Scheherazade, Tell me a Story,” for praise and was disappointed by the filmmakers decisions to withdraw from the festival.

Just prior to the festival’s start, however, some 50 intellectuals and filmmakers, including British director Ken Loach, accused North America’s premier film festival of “complicity with the Israeli propaganda machine” over its spotlight this year on Tel Aviv, given “the absence of Palestinian filmmakers in the program.”