Egypt Cancels Planned Screening of Award-winning Israeli Comedy 'The Band's Visit'

The film tells the fictional story of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt that's invited to play in Israel.

Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman
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Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai in a scene from the award-winning movie.
Ronit Elkabetz and Sasson Gabai in a scene from the award-winning movie.
Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman

Egypt’s Culture Ministry has canceled the screening of an award-winning Israeli comedy about an Egyptian police band making its inaugural visit to Israel. “The Band’s Visit” was scheduled to be shown last Sunday evening near Cairo, according to Egyptian media reports.

The official in charge of the Cairo metropolitan area in the Culture Ministry ordered the cancellation and is now investigating who approved the event, Egyptian websites reported.

The director of the 2007 movie, Eran Kolirin, wrote on his Facebook page that when an Egyptian journalist asked for his response to the cancellation, he “sent him to our idiot education minister who is busy removing books dealing with Jewish-Arab relations from the school curriculum.”

Kolirin, who also wrote the acclaimed film, added on Facebook, “I hope [the journalist] will be able to connect the politicians – and the idiots will certainly have a lot to talk about.”

“What can you do, idiots have taken over both sides,” Kolirin told Haaretz Tuesday.

The film tells the fictional story of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra from Egypt, which is invited to Israel to play at the opening ceremony for an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva. However, because of their accents, the band members end up in the small (fictional) town of Beit Hatikva in the Negev.

The story revolves around the relationships formed when the police orchestra has to spend the night in the small town, which has no hotel. Instead, they are put up in various people’s apartments, and in the restaurant run by Dina (Ronit Elkabetz).

The movie won eight Ophirs at the Israeli Academy of Film and Television awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director. It also won several prizes at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.

Sunday’s screening was scheduled to be at the cultural center in the city of Beni Suef, about 115 kilometers south of Cairo, reported Egyptian media.

Kolirin and his producers had been keen to screen the film in Egypt when it was first released, because of the relationships formed in the story between Israeli Jews and Egyptian Arabs. But even though the film was accepted into the Cairo Film Festival, its screening was ultimately cancelled due to political pressure from groups opposing normalization of relations between the two countries.

In July 2008, though, a special screening was held in Cairo, organized by the Israeli embassy in Egypt; Kolirin attended that event.

Kolirin had written about last weekend’s mooted Egyptian screening on Facebook: “If you are in Egypt on Sunday, there is a screening of ‘The Band’s Visit.’ I wish I could come,” he wrote.

He told Haaretz it was a private showing and not an official event. “A few people, maybe students, organized the independent screening of the film, probably in some community center. In fact, because it was unofficial, it was exciting and gladdening. I received an invitation for the event on Facebook, and after that one of the organizers approached me and asked if I could send a video, so they could show me before the screening or afterward. But before I managed to do it, a journalist called to ask for my response to the cancellation,” he said.

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