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Amal Ramsis: Exploring the “Forbidden”

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Filmmaker Amal Ramsis explores all that is forbidden in Egypt

Forbidden’s poster  Courtesy of Gezira Art Centre

Forbidden’s poster
Courtesy of Gezira Art Centre

In a country where society considers itself the guardian of the forbidden, it is easy to find one’s self feeling trapped. Pursuing the theme in a 67-minute documentary, filmmaker Amal Ramsis explores all that is forbidden in Egypt.

The film was shown on Sunday at the Gezira Art Centre. The screening was part of the centre’s program “Man and Woman in Cinema”. The film was shot five months before the revolution, and on 25 January 2011, Ramsis was finishing the editing of the documentary.

Before the screening starts, Ramsis told the audience: “This film is not about the revolution, because a lot of people think that it is, but it is not.” The film explores the idea of society as both the inhibitor and facilitator of the forbidden. It handles the contradiction between everything being off limits and people doing what they please.

Ramsis explained how she got the idea of the movie: “Six months before the revolution, I and many people noticed that everything is forbidden. It has become a big problem. ”

Ramsis interviews several people, ranging from the filmmaker Arab Lotfy to activists such as Nawara Negm to a housekeeper called Sama, who participated in demonstrations. Through the interviews, the audience unravels all that is forbidden, ranging from the participation of women in the community to holding hands with loved ones.

Books and films are also discussed; Lotfy explains that some of her movies have been banned for over 15 years. Ramsis juxtaposes Lotfy speaking about her banned films with scenes from movies that were permitted at the time.

The scenes feature belly dancing and obnoxious, meaningless songs.  Ramsis wanted to show how the regime was allowing meaningless culture, but banning anything of substance; their way of preventing people from realising their own reality.

The idea of the citizen as informer is also discussed in the movie; Lotfy mentions that it is the printers that are usually the ones who report books to censor. In addition, the film discusses public judgement of others’ behaviours. In the film Ramsis portrays the way the government has treated the people as causing a self-governing community that borders on self-hate.

Ramsis also documented the failed attempt to enter Gaza after the freedom flotilla incident in May 2010. After the attack, the government announced that it has opened the Rafah gateway.

Therefore, some people gathered supplies from Egypt and attempted to enter Gaza, including Arab Lotfy, Mohamed Waked and Nawara Negm. The group spent almost two days in front of the Rafah gateway only to be denied entrance.

Ironically, the film also discusses the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood as a banned political group. Many activists in the film bring them up as a symbol of the regime’s oppression along with the communist party. In this part, people couldn’t help but laugh. However, afterwards, Ramsis said that the film is relating the history of a period before the revolution.

The documentary ends with Sheikh Imam’s song “Forbidden”, which was written by Nawara Negm’s father, Ahmed Fouad Negm, who said that the song was written after her father was banned from travelling. This is followed by scenes from the 25 January 2011, protests and a line expressing the regime is yet to fall.

Ramsis explained that the ending was different as it used to state that the regime has fallen; however she had to change it after she found herself explaining many times how it has not.  “When the film was screened after the revolution, there was an air of happiness and optimism, but today I feel there is repression. I feel that those events [in the movie] were light compared to what’s going to happen,” explained Ramsis.

“The reality hasn’t changed, but people have changed. Strikes and protests are not even discussed as legal or illegal anymore. However, the reality still needs to be changed. There is political conflict so the situation will take time to resolve,” said Ramsis.

One of the viewers commented on how she loved Ramsis’s way of documenting the role of women in society: “You filmed with only one man and the rest were women.”

However, Ramsis responded that it was not intended: “I just thought of people around me who would be able to talk freely. People were brave to talk about their [political] roles at the time. This was a political action and they took a great risk.” She added laughingly: “Women here are tough.”

When asked about the smooth flow of the movie, Ramsis responded: “After I edited the movie, I consulted a Mexican film editor who doesn’t speak Arabic, just so he can adjust the flow of the film.”

Ramsis is currently working on another film project titled “Point of Transition”, which will be debuted in three to four months.


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