Egyptian star Amr Waked on why he’s boycotting the screening of his own film
Compared to other recent editions, this year’s festival has been notably short on political controversy. One exception, though, has been the storm brewing around “18 Days”, a series of short films about the recent revolution in Egypt made by 10 Egyptian filmmakers – some of whom are thought to have had close ties to former President Hosni Mubarak.
The film will be screened tomorrow, May 18, as part of a tribute to Egypt, and many Egyptian artists, movie stars, and diplomats have been invited to attend. But some of those people, like well-known actor Amr Waked, who stars in and co-produced one of the short films in “18 Days”, are boycotting the evening.
Waked (who may be known to Anglophone audiences for his role in “Syriana”) is on the Croisette for meetings in hopes of securing distribution for a film he recently produced. We caught up with him for quick interview, in which he explained the reasons behind his refusal to go to the screening of a film he worked on.
Why are you choosing not to attend the screening of “18 Days”?
It has to do with the political cloud around a few of the people invited. It makes it difficult for me to attend the film, although it’s my film and I’ve got nothing against the film. But certain people invited from outside the film, certain participants in the film who haven’t reconciled with the people, and some other artists who said they were coming -- I don’t want to be in their presence. Some of them were very aggressive against the revolution. And some of them were very, very helpful for Hosni Mubarak in 2011 throughout the revolution. It’s really difficult to go and celebrate the revolution with them. These are people who have not reconciled with the public, politically speaking. Reconciliation begins with accepting or declaring that you have done something wrong. And that hasn’t been done yet.
It’s a film about the revolution that was against Hosni Mubarak, and we have two filmmakers who worked on “18 Days” that campaigned for Hosni Mubarak. That was in 2005, and I’m sure they were pressured to do it. But now, after the revolution has uncovered how much corruption the system had under its sleeves, whatever you were thinking in 2005 must change. And you have to announce that to reconcile with the people.
What was Mubarak’s relationship to the Egyptian film industry during his time in power?
Mubarak hated the cinema industry. Mubarak as a person had no interest in cinema whatsoever. Cinema died in Mubarak’s time. Egyptian cinema was being financed by the Gulf, and not by Egypt. It’s very misleading to believe that Mubarak did anything positive for cinema people. On the contrary, the state virtually stopped supporting any cinematic initiatives. It only did so with very particular projects that were not critical of the regime’s political position.
Did you ever have any involvement with Mubarak?
No. On the contrary, I was not very favourable to his policies. I wrote an article once about the steel wall they built between Egypt and Gaza. I published it in a national paper in 2009. I said that it was against all my beliefs, and that I did not accept this policy, which was really horrible for the Palestinian people. I didn’t have much concern for what Mubarak would think of me.
Are you disappointed that there are very few films from Arab countries screening at Cannes this year?
I kind of understand that with all that is happening in our countries it made it difficult for people to get their films ready in time. Maybe next round, you will see a lot more Arab films in all international festivals. It is disappointing, but understandable.