By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 11/22/2005 | 8:34 pm
Marrakech -- Syrian director Mohammad Malas, who has won the Jury Prize for his film "Bab El Makam" at the fifth Marrakech International Film Festival, held on Nov. 11-19 in the Moroccan southern city, said that the Syrian Cinema has not progressed for more than 35 years up to now.
“It is a sector which is still governed by the State. This means that we produce no more than 2 films a year. The private sector doesn't invest in the Cinema, which leads many directors, including me, to seek foreign production and assistance,” Malas told reporters in Marrakech.
The Qatari-based Al Jazeera channel has reported that the film has not been screened in Syria because the authorities have prevented it, though a statement from the Syrian Cinema General Establishment published in the online Arabic News service denied this.
The statement said Malas had never applied for permission to screen it in the first place.
"The film has got the approval of the texts reading committee at the Ministry of Culture and that means it has got the approval on production and shooting in Syria," explained the statement.
Malas also denied Al-Jazeera's statement. He told Morocco Times that "Bab El Makam" is not yet screened in Syria. He thinks, but not sure, that the Syrian authorities will allow him present his film at home.
Malas's film, "Bab El Makam", was in competition along with 16 others from 15 different countries at the Marrakech Film Festival. The controversial Syrian director said he is so happy to get awarded for a film that describes contradictions within the Syrian society.
'I am very grateful to the Marrakech Film Festival, which gave me the opportunity to meet renowned filmmakers as Martin Scorsese and Abbas Kiarostami,” Malas told Morocco Times.
Malas who had no previous knowledge of the existence of the Marrakech Film Festival before he came to Morocco, said he was so pleased with the organisation of the latter and the quality of the films in competition.
"Bab El Makam" tells the story of Imane, a young girl, who struggles against a society which does not accept her love for singing.
In the film, Malas deals with the themes of music, censorship and lack of acceptance in Syrian society. The film is based on the true story of the killing of a Syrian woman, who passionately loved her family and the music of Umm Kalthoum - a passion mistaken for a love affair with another man.
“The Syrian society has lost many values and is still stick to certain traditions that may appear inhuman,” Malas told Morocco Times.
“That's why I wanted to react by discussing the story of a woman who will be assassinated for the simple love of Umm Kalthoum. The crime of honour is not what interested me, but rather the harsh reality of the Syrian society that needs to be changed,” he added.
Jean-Marc Vallée's C.R.A.Z.Y., Canada's Oscar candidate for best foreign film, which talks about five brothers growing up in Quebec from the 1960s to the 1980s, shared the jury prize with Malas's film, "Bab El Makan".
C.R.A.Z.Y. won Best Canadian Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival and is nominated for the Screen International Award at the European Film Festival, which will be held in December.
The film has garnered critical praise in North America and had been a favourite at Marrakech, which seeks to bring together the best of east and west.
Saratan, a Kyrgyz film by Ernest Abdyshaparov, won the Gold Star, the top prize of the festival. Daniel Day Lewis won the best actor award for The Ballad of Jack and Rose. Shirley Henderson was named best actress for Frozen.
US director Martin Scorsese, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, and Moroccan actor Amidou have won a lifetime achievement award at the festival.
The Marrakech festival has been seeking to raise its profile and this year it has attracted more European and North American stars.
The films screened in the festival represented Spain, France, Syria, Canada, GB, China, Denmark, Belgium, USA, Finland, Kirghizistan, Germany, the Czech Republic and Morocco.
This 5th festival also paid tribute to the Spanish cinema, featuring a total of 41 feature films among the best shot in the latest 50 years.