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From The Press

Scant regard for artistic freedom

THE ONLY possible explanation for the government's incredibly short-sighted decision to demand the withdrawal of the film Akamas from the Venice Film Festival is excessive arrogance. So sure is it about the correctness of its negative position that it that it has taken an ultra-hard-line stance, refusing to see sense or to try to find a compromise solution. Perhaps this is to be expected given the public support it enjoys and the general acceptance that it always has the national interest at heart.

No political party is likely to criticise the government's heavy-handedness in dealing with the director of the film. Just a couple of months ago, the government cancelled Manifesta - a big European arts event that was to be held in - for political reasons, and there was not a single political party which was remotely critical of its decision. In fact, the decision was applauded by most Cypriots with an interest in the arts, because it was considered a patriotic imperative. And as the government has acquired the monopoly on dictating what is good and bad for the country, politically and artistically, it is unlikely many people will buck the trend to support the Akamas director's right to complete his film without state interference.

As with Manifesta, the row between the government and the director over the content of the film has been reduced to a legal dispute, with the Ministry of Education's Film Advisory Council insisting there was a breach of contract; everything boils down to a legal dispute for the Papadopoulos government. The Council has a strong case legally. The contract between the government and director Panicos Chrysanthou was signed on condition that he removed a scene depicting EOKA men killing a suspected terrorist in Church from the script, but he included it. Other breaches of contract, cited by the government in the letter demanding the withdrawal of the film from the festival, were that the duration of the film was longer than initially agreed and that it was not completed on time.

These are absurd arguments for anyone who knows a little bit about film-making, but are indicative of how the Council tried to exercise control of the creative process. What is scandalous is that the government, by contributing just 20 per cent of the cost of the film, demanded artistic control, and the director, desperate for cash, unwittingly granted it to the bureaucrats in the belief they would not exercise it. Now that the bureaucrats have dug in their heels and will not release the final sum owed for the film, he will not have the funds to pay for the copies being made.

Both sides have made mistakes, but the government should, for once, show a little generosity of spirit, releasing the funds without insisting on cuts being made to the film. Even if it has the legal arguments on its side, it is still behaving like an authoritarian government. A liberal, democratic government would not have tried to stop a film from being screened because it did not approve of one scene - even if it had partly funded it - as this would be perceived as censorship. But it seems the government does not believe in artistic freedom, especially if it is picking up the tab for it.



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