Egypt filmmakers defy taboos of conservative society


CAIRO - Filmmakers in Egypt are defying a largely conservative society with television series and movies that deal with modern relationships between men and women and the empowerment of the young.

In its heyday between the 1950s and the 1970s, Egypt had one of the largest and most dynamic movie industries in the world.

The golden age of Egyptian cinema starred fiery, determined women and love scenes that rivaled those of Western movies at the time.

"Things started to change in the 1980s" as social freedoms regressed and society grew more puritanical, said leading Arab film critic Tarek El Shenawi.

Braving criticism from conservatives, young directors are now becoming more daring in their work. Such productions often stir controversy, but they still attract millions of viewers online.

In the film "Balash Tebosni" (Kiss Me Not), young director Ahmed Amer makes fun of the taboo on passionate kisses in contemporary Egyptian cinema.

"Comedy makes the people a bit more open to the theme," Amer said.

In the "adults only" movie, Amer tries to shoot a kissing scene but the actress refuses to comply, stressing that she wants to become a more devout Muslim.

The "film within a film" satirizes the dogged resistance of his starlet in what has become an increasingly puritanical society.

Raeis said she could not understand the taboo on kissing when audiences stream to watch thrillers and action movies packed with scenes of violence.

"That's what's strange. We should be condemning violence, not romance," she said.


Family comedies have also become a hit.

Watched by millions on YouTube, "Sabaa Gar" (Seventh Neighbor), a series which airs on the private CBC Entertainment channel, has faced a storm of accusations that it corrupts Egypt's youth.

A single woman living alone and dating, or another who smokes in secret, "Sabaa Gar" shows the young demanding control over their own lives.

This contrasts with the stricter social norms that the older generation still holds on to and highlights the generation gap in Egyptian society.

The goal was not to spur controversy, said Heba Yousry, one of the series' three all-female co-directors.

"'Sabaa Gar' has allowed people to understand each other and to learn about how the new generation thinks", she said. - AFP