Egypt's Alexandria Film Festival Withdraws Turkish Movie on 'Political' Grounds

Reis Celik's feature about a child bride was pulled over opposition to the recent military coup in Cairo.

LONDON -- Egypt's Alexandria International Film Festival has pulled a Turkish film from its program, citing political reasons related to a breakdown in relations between the two countries over last month's military coup.

Turkish director Reis Celik's feature Night of Silence focuses on the fears of a pubescent girl forced to marry a man more than 50 years older than herself soon after his release from a long jail sentence.

Although the subject matter was likely to be controversial for Arab audiences, it was Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's support for the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition to last month's military coup that overthrew leader Mohamed Morsi, that forced Alexandria, Egypt's second oldest festival that is due to begin its 29th edition next month, to withdraw the film.

In a letter to Celik, the festival's international communications manager Jihan Abdel Latif, told him the film was being withdrawn.

"I guess you are aware of the political changes that happened between Turkey and Egypt which unfortunately affects the relations between both countries in all fields," she wrote. "You and we are in a critical situation now and hope that everything become[s] better in future."

The decision coincided with a denunciation of Turkey's pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance by Egypt's interim foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy.

In an interview last Friday with the Arabic arm of Kremlin-backed international TV channel Russia Today, Fahmy said that Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) was "afraid that if the ideas of political Islam will fail in the region it will have a negative impact on its own position within Turkey."

Erdogan's government has been facing street demonstrations and unrest itself since May when protests were sparked by the government's decision to begin construction in Istanbul's popular Taksim Gezi Park.

Celik, whose film industry career over the past 20 years includes acting, writing and producing as well as directing, said he was disappointed by the decision.

"I want the notion of child brides to be discussed in patriarchal societies so that men can face the bitter truth," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "I sensed that the Egyptian public longed to see such [a] film that can emancipate individuals from religious and tribal pressures."

The decision to withdraw the film was a disturbing one, he said.

"It is especially worrying that a respectable and long established festival like Alexandria should remain under the pressure of political power in Egypt."

Celik added: "The government in Turkey positioned itself according to its political affinity; the festival withdrew the film from Turkey as a reaction to this position. They neither counted my own political views nor thought of the political discourse of [the film.] This hurts me most, because I have a totally different point of view regarding the demand for democracy in Egypt."