Movie director Mohammed Diab has expressed his anger at alleged attempts to undermine the Egyptian release of his political drama “Eshtibak" (Clash, 2016), which went on general release in Egypt on Wednesday.
The controversial movie is being shown at 36 cinemas across the country, having premiered in Egypt on Sunday.
However, Diab says that the release has been hampered on several fronts, due to factors that are more than coincidental, and that reflect the government’s desire to see the film flop at the box office.
"Some cinemas did not display the posters, and the poster distributor withdrew just a few days before the movie release in Egypt. All of these things were more than a coincidence. They were intentional," he said.
He also alleges that the government had originally planned to sabotage the film after its release, limiting it to just a few screens and then removing it after just a few days, suggesting the movie was a flop with audiences.
However, Diab claims the government dropped the plan after it saw how popular the movie had become internationally, receiving high praise from foreign critics and movie industry insiders, despite being panned by many Egyptian reviewers on political grounds.
The 98-minute film, written and directed by Diab, depicts the political turbulence and uncertainty after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, particularly the conflict between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and those backing the military.
The film was set entirely in the back of a police van, into which both Brotherhood and military supporters had been thrown in the wake of demonstrations following the overthrown of Morsi in July 2013.
“The film is not attacking anyone. It just depicts the hysteria and polarization in the country in a humane way, and that was the opinion of various cinema critics with a variety of political affiliations,” Diab said.
The film has been slammed in the Egyptian media for allegedly misrepresenting the range of political opinions in the country and depicting Egypt in a bad light. Amany a-Khiat, the presenter of the TV show “Ana Masr”, aired a report about Diab, describing him as an activist who was educated abroad and who is disloyal to Egypt.
However, despite the rough reaction in Egypt, Eshtibak was selected to open the "Un Certain Regard" category at the Cannes Film Festival this year and received several good reviews in the international press.
Obstructing the film's distribution in Egypt would be a "scandal", says Diab, after it got such a positive response at Cannes.
Diab said that the film was sold to 20 countries in Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia. It will be screened in around 200 theaters in France.
“But the most important success should be in Egypt and with the Egyptians whom the film is targeting,” Diab said.
The director’s confidence in the film’s popularity received a boost this week with the receipt of letters of congratulation from two Hollywood stars, Tom Hanks and Daniel Craig.
The two actors hailed the Egyptian film for “enlightening many audiences and changing the traditional image of Egypt”.
Diab said he received a signed letter from Tom Hanks saying, “Few Americans see Egypt as being anything more than terrorists and pyramids. Your film CLASH will go great lengths to enlighten many. Audiences will see that humanity is a fragile community, but we are all in ‘this’ together. And, we will all come to pray for Egypt, in any way we know how."
At the end of the message, Hanks thanked Diab for the “magnificent film”, saying the crew and cast are first-rate examples of their kind.
Diab photographed the letter and posted it on his official Facebook account, saying he received a similar message from Craig. The director said both messages contradict criticisms in the Egyptian media, accusing the film of defaming Egypt’s reputation.