Egypt: Debate about Cannes-honored film “Feathers” amid claims of highlighting poverty!

A Cannes-honored feature film, titled “Feathers” has sparked great uproar and controversy in Egypt, with claims of contempt of the country and highlighting poverty in the Egyptian society.

Ironically, about 33% of Egyptians are living below the poverty line, according to the official Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Although the Egyptian-made “Feathers” feature film won two historical awards from the Cannes International Film Festival, it raised controversy in Egypt during the events of the local El Gouna Film Festival over claims of highlighting poverty.

The withdrawal of some Egyptian actors from the special screening of the film during the El Gouna Film Festival has caused massive uproar and controversy on social media, especially that the actors that had exited claimed that it was because the film harms Egypt, as it highlights poverty in society, although, the phenomenon is deeply rooted in Egypt.

In fact, the reactions to the film varied, and created a crisis that led the El Gouna Festival to issue an official statement, to clarify its position. The withdrawal of some Egyptian actors, notably Sherif Mounir, Ahmed Rizk and Ashraf Abdel Baqi during the screening of the film, accusing it of insulting Egypt and damaging its reputation, sparked a great controversy, and sometimes anger.

Director Omar Abdel Aziz stated in press statements that he withdrew from the screening of the film “Feathers” because it harms Egypt’s reputation and shows it as slums and presents an image opposite to reality, which he rejects.

Shadi Al-Ghazali Harb tweeted, saying:
Why are you surprised by the reaction of Sherif Mounir and Ahmed Rizk?!
They are just trying to find a place for themselves in the third part of the “Al Ikhtiar” series or one of the Synergy (a company affiliated with the security services) serials. And I think that they have already managed to reserve a place for them there.

Egyptian actor Donia Maher defended the film, emphasizing that it didn’t harm Egypt’s reputation and that the events depicted in the film could have taken place in any period of time, and were not necessarily reflective of modern Egypt.

Also, a Twitter account titled, “In Humanity” tweeted saying: 

Also, Rasha Abdullah on Twitter commented on this sarcastically, saying:

I found a trending hashtag called #Stop_ElGouna_Festival.. Why are they so upset about the festival? Because the film “Feathers” that won a prize at Cannes festival, and also screened at El Gouna festival allegedly focuses  on poor and areas and slums, which harms Egypt’s reputation! This, as we all know, is a big lie, because there we do not have any poor people in Egypt. We never have any of them!

Also, Mai Azzam tweeted saying:

Why did the “Feathers” film bother them?

Some of those affiliated with art and lawyers, who used to file complaints in favor of the government, considered it offensive to Egypt.

Which Egypt?

Egypt of El Gouna, the administrative capital, El Alamein, and El Galala?

Or the whole of Egypt across the country?

I wish someone would go to the popular markets, not the supermarkets and malls, to see what people eat and how they live.

That is real Egypt.

On the other hand, it seems that this issue enraged the administration of the United Media Services company, affiliated with the Egyptian government, which decided to prevent dissemination of news about the Gouna Film Festival within some of its websites, newspapers and TV channels.

For example, Al-Hayat and CBC satellite channels on 19 October withdrew from the festival coverage, ignoring all the activities of the film festival. Also, On E TV channel, the exclusive sponsor of festival, along with the official Egyptian Satellite Channel were also absent from the El Gouna festival activity coverage.

In addition, the “Motadata” and “El-Dostour” websites have suspended dissemination of any news about the festival until further notice; while the “Youm7” and “Al-Watan” news websites have cautiously published a few news stories pending a clear official attitude from the regime towards the “Feathers” feature film.

It is to be mentioned that before 14 July 2021, most Egyptians did not know anything about “Feathers”, the first work of its director Omar Al-Zuhairi, produced by Mohamed Hefzy, head of the Cairo Film Festival.

El Gouna Film Festival issued a statement about the reaction to the film, defending its screening. 

“The El Gouna Film Festival appreciates and cherishes all filmmakers for their creativity and the cinematic experience they provide. The festival’s team chooses films based on their artistic and cinematic quality, which reflect the standards of other international film festivals,” the statement read. 

The statement also reiterated that the organizers were proud of the selection of films being shown at the festival and would continue to support art. 

However, the film’s success in achieving a historic achievement by winning the first Egyptian award at the International Cannes Film Festival made a great resonance in the Egyptian street, where the film succeeded in obtaining the Grand Prix of the Critics’ Week at the France-based festival, and two days later it won a new prize at the festival, the Fibrisi Award for the best film in the festival’s parallel competitions.

On the technical level, all Egyptian and Arab filmmakers received the news with a standing ovation, and most of the actors and artists praised the film and its achievement in many posts on their personal social media pages and accounts.

Although the Egyptian government at the time celebrated the “Feathers” feature film’s winning of two historical awards from the 74th Cannes Film Festival, as no Egyptian film over the past 73 editions of the festival had won a single award – yet its official position has not been announced so far, amid the current controversy.

It is noteworthy that the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, particularly, Culture Minister Enas Abdel Dayem, had granted the film an award in a major ceremony that was held at the Egyptian Opera House, where the filmmakers and work team were honored and celebrated in an event that the Egyptian audience had watched.

Egyptian director Omar El-Zohairy has won Nespresso Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s parallel Critics’ Week for his debut feature film ‘Reesh’ (Feathers), that tells a lot about how people feel about themselves, their life and their economic situation.

What is the film about?

The feature film ‘Reesh’ (Feathers), is about man that turns into a chicken, which reveals a lot about men and women and Egyptian society.

The 112-minute Arabic-language film explores the adventures of a mother who is stuck in a repetitive daily routine after a magician mistakenly turns her strict husband into a chicken.

The wife in the film must face a new reality after her husband is turned into a chicken at a children’s birthday party, which leaves her with the responsibility of earning a wage and supporting her family alone.

The storyline follows her life and transformation following the event.

She tries to survive while going through the rough and absurd transformation. Restoring her husband again as a human being not a chicken does not go according to plan, where the woman is left with a chicken rather than her husband.

Zohairy’s  debut feature film is considered a film of biting social satire, wry chuckles, and unsettling oddity.

‘Feathers’ was chosen from nearly 1,000 nominees by a committee under the helm of artistic director Charles Tesson.

The film was well received by critics when it was shown at the Cannes festival, leaving victorious over seven other films in the competition.

“Reesh” mixes reality and fantasy, as it deals with the story of a father who hires a magician for his eldest son’s birthday party.

During one of the magician’s tricks, the father is turned into a chicken and the magician is unable to change him back.

The struggle continues throughout the film with shades of satirical criticism on social and economic problems as well as comments on the condition of breadwinners.

However, the screening of the film at the festival marked a significant milestone for the director, especially after the controversy raised around it.