Thursday, March 20, 2008

Salata Baladi: Egyptian Director Breaks Taboo by Filming in Israel

The relationship between Egypt and Israel is what you might diplomatically call "thorny." While the two nations have officially been off each other's backs since the 1979 Camp David Accords, there's still plenty of resentment and outright discrimination when it comes to their movies and other artistic products. Many Egyptians take the position that Israel should be boycotted altogether until the conflict with Palestine is resolved -- so, you know, don't hold your breath.

We've already talked about how the Israeli film The Band's Visit was banned from the Cairo Film Festival and the Middle East Film Festival in Abu Dhabi for the sole reason that it was an Israeli product. The fact that the movie is a buoyant comedy about Egyptians and Israelis learning to get along was overlooked by the festival programmers, who are evidently immune to irony.

Now a new scandal has arisen: Egyptian director Nadia Kamel has made a documentary and shot much of it in Israel. What's more, the film is actually about the mixing of Egyptians and Israelis, as it follows Kamel's attempts to reunite the long-estranged parts of her family that include Egyptian Muslims, Israeli Jews, Italian Catholics, and more. Kamel's on-camera family reunion was probably the last chance for the older generation to see each other before they die.

Salata Baladi (House Salad) premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland (a neutral country, fittingly) and then played last week at the Middle East Film Fest. Those screenings happened without incident -- but they weren't in Egypt, either. The doc will screen again this week as part of the Cairo Independent Film Festival, and according to the Variety article that brought the film to my attention, Kamel is bracing herself for a possible backlash among her Egyptian peers.

You can learn more about the film at the filmmaker's blog. I hope Egyptian audiences find it thought-provoking rather than infuriating. After all, shouldn't family ties transcend religious and political differences? I mean, I've long since forgiven my brother for being a Republican.