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September 25 2016

Algeria | Vote off Film Censorship Denounced

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Project'heurts Association, organiser of the Bejaia Film Meetings in Algeria, announced that the film Vote Off (2014) did not receive a visa for projection in the country. The film, directed by Faisal Hammoum and produced by Thala Films that was originally scheduled to be screened on Thursday the 8th of September 2016 at 17h00, was restricted by Law No. 11-03 of 17 February 2021 on Cinematography, decree 13-276. After being forced to cancel the screening, the festival organisers replaced it with a discussion on film law and freedom of creative expression in Algeria, with the film’s director and producer.

An official statement from the Ministry of Culture expressed the following:
"The Minister of Culture has at no point intervened in the programming of this film. This decision falls within the competence and exclusive powers of the Screening Commission, who have the exclusive right to provide filming and projection permits ... This commission, consisting of film experts and professionals, deliberated favorably on 23 films with the exception of the film Vote Off which includes content that is offensive to the state and its sovereignty.
The decision of the committee does not come under the recitals relating to the art of the film, but instead proceeds from the application of the law."

This case of film censorship is hardly a first for Algeria. The documentary evokes the presidential campaign of 2014 (that saw the election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika) when many young Algerians saw no reason to vote. The resultant portrayal of this historic period is frowned upon by the authorities.

The film’s censorship has drawn consternation and anger from both the public and cultural actors in Bejaia and throughout Algeria. The film community has mobilised to denounce the censorship and, in particular, the lack of foundation for the restriction. "The Screening Commission that censored Vote Off is ILLEGAL. Indeed, Decree No. 13-277 of 29 July 2020 clearly states that "The list of members (7) of the Committee and its President is fixed by order of the minister of culture.” However, to date, no interventions have been registered by the Ministry of Culture in their official journal,” wrote Ammar Kessab, one of the founders of the Groupe de travail sur la politique culturelle en Algérie (GTPCA).

Allowing the ban to be upheld shows that the censorship is approved by the Algerian state and shows that they want to muzzle artistic production or, alternatively, guide it to have a purely political objective. However, an artist’s work ideally serves as a vehicle to inspire debate. In a free society, a film like Vote Off is meant to show the frustrations and aspirations of the people so that the state has the obligation to listen and respond. For the state to ban a film of this nature is to shirk their responsibilities and use the artist as a scapegoat for a situation or opinion that they would rather suppress.

For more information about the case, click here.

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