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Media Watch 2003

01 September 2003
Source: Guardian
Author: Fiachra Gibbons
Comment: The following article appeared in the Guardian of London on 01 September 2003.
Censors cast shadow over Venice


A veil of censorship is hanging over the Venice film festival, with a series of contentious new films facing bans, savage cuts and a looming threat that their makers may be locked up when they return home.

Iranian officials confiscated the master reel of Babak Payami's film The Silence Between Two Thoughts to stop the story of a Taliban assassin ordered to rape a female prisoner so she will not get to paradise being shown at the festival. Under some interpretations of Islamic law, virgins automatically go to heaven.

Despite being held for two days by police in June, the director managed to smuggle a video of the film out of Tehran, much to the anger of the Iranian authorities, and it will be shown later this week.
But the most potentially disastrous threat hangs over Dervis Zaim's film Mud, which bills itself the "first film of a united Cyprus".

The island's border was thrown open earlier this year in an attempt by Rauf Denktash, the leader of the Turkish north, to stave off a rebellion after half the population took to the streets to demand a peace deal with the Greek south.

Mr Denktash, who is convinced that Greeks and Turks cannot live in peace, thought opening the border would lead to fresh bloodshed. Instead people from both sides threw open their homes to each other in what has been called "the Cyprus miracle".

Mud, which has been hailed as a courageous and sensitive portrayal of a family traumatised by partition, must pass the Turkish censors before it is seen, and many fear they will attempt to delay or cut it.

For the first time, it concedes that Turkish Cypriots massacred their Greek neighbours. This is heresy to the official version of events, which sees the 1974 Turkish invasion as a "peacekeeping mission".
One of Mud's central characters is haunted by his crimes and becomes a peace activist. In the film's pivotal scene, he confesses to killing Greek villagers in revenge for the murder of his family and friends.
In what some critics are seeing as an unholy alliance with Turkish hawks, the organisers of Greece's premier film festival, Thessalonika, have already refused to show Mud despite its significance. And in Greek southern Cyprus, the film may only be shown in one small arthouse cinema in Nicosia. Alin Tasciyan, the critic of Istanbul daily Milliyet, said it would be a "complete catastrophe" if Mud became a political football. "I am worried for it, because this film deserves to be seen. It is a wonderful, human story. All Cypriots have suffered and this shows the Greeks how Turkish Cypriots share the same pain."
Zaim shot only a small part of the film in northern Cyprus for fear of alerting the authorities to its content. His own family fled their homes in the south in 1974, while his Greek-Cypriot co-producer Panicos Chrysanthou was forced to abandon his in the north.

Both see the film as essential to reconciliation. "We must all admit our mistakes and our crimes, and that goes for the Greeks as well," said Chrysanthou. "I have been called a trai tor for working with Turkish Cypriots but I see this as an act of love for my country and an investment in its future peace."

But the film which has so far raised most hackles in Venice is the Italian documentary Secrets of the State, which implicates Pope Pius XII, the mafia and former prime minister Giulio Andreotti in a plot to suppress communism in post-war Sicily. Eleven communist peasants were murdered there on May Day 1947, a few days after the left had unexpectedly won regional elections.

Director Paolo Benvenuti claims the killings, blamed at the time on a local bandit, were orchestrated by a state hungry for aid to prove to the Americans they were cracking down on the "red menace".

Late last night, another highly political film, British writer-di rector Christopher Hampton's Imagining Argentina, had its premiere. Emma Thompson plays a journalist whose articles about the 30,000 who disappeared during the military junta era in Argentina in the 1970s lands her in the torture chamber alongside the people she was writing about.

Another film making waves is the Algerian The Assassinated Sun, which tells how the former French colony cracked down on anyone dissenting from its "Arabisation" campaign. Algiers was so hostile to the film that it had to be shot in Tunisia. "