Government should help Egyptian arts revive its pioneering role: Omar Abdel Aziz

Kadry Al-Haggar
11 Min Read

Egyptian director Omar Abdel Aziz, the head of the Federation of Artistic Syndicates, presented many distinguished cinema and TV works. He has a strong imprint and a long history in the world of directing. He believes that art and creativity are Egypt’s soft power in the face of challenges. Daily News Egypt interviewed Abdel Aziz to find out his opinion on several issues.

Is the Federation’s decision to boycott Israel still valid?

Yes, the decision is still valid, even without a statement or decision. No artist ever thought of normalization with Israel.

As for the Arabs of 1948, how does the Federation view them?

We cannot boycott the Arabs of 1948 who live in the occupied territories, as they are victims of this situation. At least, there should be communication between us and them, especially since the Arabs love Egyptian drama, which is an essential part of the Arab national affiliation, and therefore we do not want to deprive them of this Arab or Egyptian art in particular.

The Art Day was supposed to be celebrated every year, why did this not happen?

The Federation of Artistic Syndicates does not have enough money, and all that the federation gets is EGP 41,000 annually, and the expenses are more than EGP 200,000. Therefore, I say it frankly, it is impossible for us to organize the celebration. Also, I am against the idea of the union spending on the Art Day celebration, because this is the responsibility of the state. It is also the right of the artists to be honoured by the state.

What can art offer to Egypt at this stage?

Art must have the required priority after brainwashing was done during the previous stage, specifically in the last 20 years. That art is the front and the fortress to defend the Egyptian identity. This is where the civilization of any people is evaluated according to the progress of its art, and the same applies to its folk arts. Our civilization also requires us to preserve this art, elevate it, and offer arts that make others feel the depth of Egyptian civilization in the field of cinema, poetry, literature, singing, and others. The radio used to produce the greatest songs that were presented by Karm Mahmoud, Houria Hassan, Abdel-Ghani El-Sayed, Abdel-Mottalib and others, and that is why they had a treasure. This matter no longer exists now because there is no budget for radio, which prevents the production of a good song. This also happens to Egyptian TV, which no longer has anything to do. Today, the budget is non-existent and is limited to salaries and incentives, with shortcomings and deficits as well. Therefore, the state must take its seat and lead the scene for the return of leadership to the original Egyptian art. It is also necessary to restructure the arts sector in the country and grant the budgets it needs to present good art. The state must rearrange its thoughts and enlighten the mind through the Ministry of Culture, cultural palaces, Egyptian radio and television, concerts, song recordings, and drama of all kinds. This is so that we do not leave the arena for people who only care about quick financial gain. And I feel that we are now putting our feet on the right path, and my dream is that the Art Festival will return again, so the state should help create a general atmosphere and start working.

Do you support the return of censorship of artistic works?

Yes, I support the return of censorship of artistic works, and people must be aware of responsible freedom.

How do you see the statue of Egyptian cinema?

Egyptian cinema is experiencing a state of slight improvement, and there must be an artistic movement now, but it is still severely affected. All fields and industries in Egypt are currently affected by the conditions in which we live, and cinema must be affected by that situation, in addition to its own problems represented by the lack of distribution companies, and the lack of quality of films, in addition to many other factors that strongly affected the industry.

Do the existing art festivals perform their artistic or tourism role?

The Ministry of Culture supports these festivals, but the most important thing is that the ministries join hands in order to produce the festival in an appropriate manner and benefit from it. Of course, this does not happen because we lack the idea of support. In the past, the two ministries of “Culture and Tourism” worked in an integrated manner so that each of them could benefit from these festivals. I lived through that stage, but the current time is different. Everyone deals with the logic that each ministry works alone and seeks to obtain the greatest private gain.

You presented the idea of making a comedy film festival, but you backed out, why?

I did not back out, but the Festivals Committee did not agree with the idea. This is due to the weakness of the budget. A total of EGP 20m has been allocated for all Egyptian festivals, half or more of which goes to the Cairo Film Festival, and therefore it is difficult to implement any other festival. Therefore, I decided to withdraw from the idea, especially since I do not like conflicts, and I hope that the idea will be presented and realized on the ground. What is important is that it be evaluated by experienced people who have a long history in the field and do not have personal purposes, because we aim to hold a respectable international festival for the most difficult type of drama ever, which is comedy, although some Critics consider it to be below the rank of a serious film.

Were old comedy films different from today’s?

The comedy that we learned and inherited from our teachers who respected this art and preserved our position in the Arab world does not concern itself with laughter. This is because comedy captures the models and behaviors of society, evaluates them, and this is their real role and makes fun of the models that deviated from public behavior, and we impose on them the penalty of laughter by ridiculing them, and this is the goal of the philosophy of laughter. Comedy can address 20 issues, including social, political, intellectual, and behavioral positions, and we make the general assembly of society mock those who deviate from normal.

Some directors change their directing opinions when lead actors disagree with them, what do you think of that?

If a director backs out in front of an actor, this is the end of art. Our profession is based on democracy in preparation and dictatorship in implementation. It is very possible for me to listen to notes from any individual during preparation and work rehearsals, but this is one of the taboos during implementation because artistic work is like sailing. The ship must have a captain. Only one is responsible because he sees the work as a whole and knows all its details and how it goes out to people. This is unlike the actor. He only sees the work from his personal point of view, and I advise new directors to have their own personalities. I think that the actor whose film succeeded now imposes his opinion on the director and believes that he is an expert, and this is unacceptable to me.

How do you see the artwork from your point of view?

The artwork depends on the agreement of thought between the scriptwriter and the director, meaning that all details are agreed upon and that the director summons his life inventory to translate what is written on paper into moving characters and convince the viewer that they are real personalities and not actors playing roles.

You presented many works throughout your artistic career, so are you satisfied with them?

Certainly, there are works that I presented at the beginning of my artistic life, and I am not satisfied with them. I have benefited greatly from these works, but I do not deny them, as they are part of my career and history. There are works that were very successful, and I did not like them, and also works that did not succeed, but I adore them. I blame some colleagues for denying some work, for we are professionals and we must have jobs that vary between success and failure.

You are currently preparing for a new movie after a long absence, so what happened?

Indeed, I miss cinema a lot, and despite the satisfaction I feel with my work in television dramas, cinema remains the closest to my heart, and I am now working on the final preparations for the film.

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