Arab Uprisings Raise Hope, Doubts Among Filmmakers


Popular uprisings that toppled veteran leaders in the Arab world have raised hopes among north African filmmakers that the winds of change will also blow across the burgeoning industry.

But there are fears too that the revolts which ousted Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and now threaten to end Libyan leader Moammer Gadhafi's 41-year rule may lead to regimes which stifle artistic freedom.

Algerian Dahmane Ouzid, whose film "Essaha" vied for the top prize at the just ended of Panafrican Film and Television Festival in the Burkina Faso capital said it was time to get rid of the old guard.

"The Arab world needed to end the ageing dictatorships, political corpses that societies are suffering so very much under," Ouzid told Agence France Presse at Africa's premier film event.

Filmmakers say they had already sent out signals for change.

"We are proud ... our images, and especially our ideas, were at the forefront of the popular movements," he said.

His film foreshadows "what happened in Egypt in Tahrir Square" the center stage of protests where hundreds of thousands of people flooded for days and forced Mubarak to step down.

But he added: "I do not know what will happen in the future with Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Algeria."

Moroccan film director Daoud Aoulad-Siad whose film "La Mosquee" ("The Mosque") was also in the running for the top honor echoed him.

"Democracy is the only issue. The more democracy there is, the more filmmakers have means to portray their countries more fairly, more fully."

"Our hope is that countries ruled by gerontocracies can peacefully move to democratic systems that allow filmmakers to express themselves freely," he said.

Leading Tunisian film director Ferid Boughedir said he feared what he terms the Iranian revolution syndrome, where hopes of change have been dampened and betrayed by the establishment of a regime that suppressed self-expression.

"Is it the military that will benefit from the popular revolution in Egypt? Is it the members of the Tunisian bourgeoisie who will gain from the great popular movement in Tunisia? Are Islamists going to seize of power in Yemen and the Arab countries?" he asked.

"I think we should still be very cautious in the Maghreb."

Censorship and lack of resources are often sore points for creative artists.

"The regimes do not support artistic creation and film. They have left the film industry to itself," said Liazid Khodja, Algerian screen scriptwriter.

However, great artists take the plunge and "express themselves at great risk of their freedom," said Boughedir.

Ousted president Ben Ali of Tunisia, at the start of his rule used filmmakers to "counter" the Islamist party Ennhada, which advocated censorship, said Boughedir.

But he was quick to regain control of the seventh art and "introduced censorship in 2006," recalled the former director of the Carthage Film Festival, one of Africa's oldest.

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