Call for Afghan actors, writers and film-makers to be given safe passage

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”117433″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]More than 80 leading lights from the worlds of film and theatre have signed an open letter to The Times calling on the British government to give artists, writers and film-makers who remain in Afghanistan and face an uncertain future under the Taliban safe passage out of the country.

The letter, organised by Index on Censorship and Good Chance Theatre, reads as follows: “Over the past two decades, civil society has flourished in Afghanistan with new freedoms ushering in a golden age of art, music, film and writing. At the same time, political dissent and journalism have thrived in a region where free expression is not always respected. With the Taliban takeover of the country, this rich legacy is in imminent peril. We now have a duty to those artists, writers and film makers who will be silenced if we do not act immediately.


“We urge the British government to cooperate with the international community to create a humanitarian corridor for those seeking safe  passage out of the country. We also call on those in positions of influence in the creative industries to help those who have escaped to continue their vital work and safeguard the culture of Afghanistan for future generations.“




Majid Adin, artist; Riz Ahmed, actor; Jenny Agutter, actor; Alison Balsom, musician; Siddiq Barmak, director; Sanjeev Bhaskar, actor; Hugh Bonneville, actor; Martin Bright, journalist; Barbara Broccoli, producer; Josephine Burton, director; Jez Butterworth, writer; Robert Chandler, poet; Benedict Cumberbatch, actor; Stephen Daldry, director; Catherine Davidson, writer; Amy Davies Dolamore, producer; Ged Doherty, producer; Parwana Fayyaz, poet; Jane Featherstone, producer; Colin Firth, actor; Sonia Friedman, producer; Stephen Fry, actor; Mark Gatiss, actor; Leah Gayer, director; Claire Gilbert, producer; Paul Greengrass, director; Sir David Hare, writer; Zarlasht Halaimzai, writer; Dame Pippa Harris, producer; Afua Hirsch, writer; Nancy Hirst, director; Mike Hodges, director; Sir Nicholas Hytner, director; Sabrina Guinness, producer; Asif Kapadia, director; Mohammad Akbar Karkar, writer; Daniel King, producer; Keira Knightley, actor; Natalia Koliada, producer; David Lan, producer; Jennifer Langer, editor; Stewart Lee, writer; Kerry Michael, director; Krishnendu Majumdar, producer; Mohsen Makhmalbaf, director; Simon McBurney, director; Kate McGrath, director; Sir Ian McKellen, actor; Nada Menzalji, poet; Sir Sam Mendes, director; David Morrissey, actor; Joe Murphy, writer; Zoe Neirizi, poet; Caro Newling, producer; David Nicholls, writer; Amir Nizar Zuabi, director; Sophie Okonedo, actor; Nasrin Parvaz, writer; Pascale Petit, poet; Trevor Phillips, broadcaster; Clare Pollard, poet; Atiq Rahimi, writer; Shirin Razavian, poet; Ian Rickson, director; Clare Robertson, producer; Joe Robertson, writer; Sir Mark Rylance, actor; Philippe Sands QC, writer; Sarah Sands, editor; Tracey Seaward, producer; Shabibi Shah, writer; Rouhi Shafi, writer; Meera Syal, actor; George Szirtes, poet; Dame Kristin Scott Thomas, actor; Elif Shafak, writer; Thea Sharrock, director; Imelda Staunton, actor; Sir Tom Stoppard, writer; Abdul Sulamal, writer; Jawed Taiman, director; Dame Emma Thompson, actor; Orlando von Einsiedel; producer; Emma Watson, actor; Naomi Webb, producer; Samuel West, actor; Krysty Wilson-Cairns, writer; Haidar Yagane, writer; David Yates, director[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

He is loathsome, but I will always defend Ken Loach’s right to offend me

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116256″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]I can think of few public figures I hold in greater contempt than Ken Loach. Mr Loach may be an esteemed film maker but I regard his politics as those of the sewer. His involvement in the cancelled original production of Perdition, the notoriously antisemitic play, ought to have led all decent people to shun him. Far from that happening, however, he has been widely feted and his career has soared. And yet not only do his views remain the same, he misses few opportunities to promote them.

In short, I loathe the man and find him deeply offensive.

All of which is true, but all of which should be irrelevant to anyone but me and those who are interested in my views of Mr Loach. There are many other public figures whose views I find deeply offensive. To which you rightly respond: Who cares?

Except people do care. Not about my specific response, but about the offence Mr Loach generates among many of my fellow Jews. And that is an issue.

Earlier this month, a brouhaha arose over a decision by students at St Peter’s College, Oxford, to invite Mr Loach to speak (as it happens, about his films rather than, er, Jews). Would I have invited him? I think you know the answer to that. But the invitation was issued, Mr Loach accepted, and we are where we are.

Vile as I – and, let’s be clear, many others – may find him to be, if a group of Oxford students wish to hear from Ken Loach, so be it. He has broken no laws when speaking and has as much right to put forward his views – and, of course, to talk about his films to a group of people interested in hearing from him about them – as anyone else.

Ordinarily, that would have been the end of the matter. But when the event was made public, the Board of Deputies of British Jews weighed in, demanding that the invitation be withdrawn. They argued – correctly – that many Jews find Mr Loach’s views deeply offensive. But, bizarrely and ludicrously, they concluded from this that he should therefore have been banned from speaking.

The sheer idiocy of this position takes some grappling with. For most of my time as editor of the Jewish Chronicle, a recurring story has been how representatives of Israel face violence and intimidation on campus to stop them speaking. In other words, one group of people believe that the offence they take at hearing a certain view entitles them to silence that view. The Board of Deputies has rightly criticised such attempts.

Do they really not see the contradiction? For Jewish students, the greatest campus battle at the moment is the right to be heard. All too often they are shouted down and attacked by anti-Israel activists. The Board of Deputies’ position is that if someone is regarded as offensive by enough people, they should be denied the opportunity to speak. Presumably anywhere, always. If Mr Loach is to be denied the chance to speak at St Peter’s, is he also to be barred from promoting his films? Or from making films?

As one can see, the whole thing unravels with a moment’s thought – as well as being so obviously counter-productive. It will not be long before the next attempt to silence an Israeli speaker, this time doubtless claiming to be based on the Board of Deputies’ own logic, that their presence is offensive to many people.

As readers of this site well know, free speech issues can be complicated. But not always. Sometimes the issue is obvious. I loathe Ken Loach. But I defend his right to speak.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Artist in Exile: Eddy Munyaneza driven to become the man behind the camera

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”104099″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]“If you want to make films in Burundi, you either self-censor and you remain in the country or if you don’t, you have to flee the country,” Eddy Munyaneza, a Burundian documentary filmmaker, told Index on Censorship.

Munyaneza became fascinated in the process of filmmaking at a young age, despite the lack of cinematic resources in Burundi.

He now is the man behind the camera and has released three documentaries since 2010, two of which have drawn the ire of the Burundian government and forced Munyaneza into exile.

His first documentary — Histoire d’une haine manquée — was released in 2010 and has received awards from international and African festivals. The film is based on his personal experience of the Burundian genocide of 1993, which took place after the assassination of the country’s first democratically elected Hutu president Ndadye Melchoir. It focuses on the compassionate actions he witnessed when his Hutu neighbours saved him and his Tutsi sisters from the mass killings that swept the country. The film launched Munyaneza’s career as a filmmaker.

Munyaneza was honoured by Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza for his first film and his work was praised by government officials. But the accolades faded when he turned his camera toward Nkurunziza for his second film in 2016.

The film, Le Troisieme Vide, focused on the two-year political crisis and president’s mandate that followed Nkurunziza’s campaign for an unconstitutional third term in April 2015. During the following two years, between 500 and 2,000 people were tortured and killed, and 400,000 were  exiled.

The filming of his second documentary was disrupted when Munyaneza started receiving death threats from the government’s secret service. He was forced to seek asylum in Belgium in 2016 for fear of his life. Through perseverance and passion, he quietly returned to Burundi in July 2016 and April 2017 to finish his short film.

Exile hasn’t affected Munyaneza’s work: in 2018 he released his third film, Lendemains incertains. It tells the stories of Burundians who have stayed or left the country during the 2015 political tension. He secretely returned to Burundi to capture additional footage for his new film, which premiered in Brussels at the Palace Cinema and several festivals.

“I lead a double life, my helplessness away from my loved ones, and the success of the film on the other,” he said. He continues to work in exile, but also works toward returning to Burundi to see his wife and kids who currently reside in a refugee camp in Rwanda, and to create film, photography and audio programs for aspiring Burundian filmmakers.

Gillian Trudeau from Index on Censorship spoke with Munyaneza about his award-winning documentaries and time in exile.

Index: In a country that doesn’t have an abundance of film or cinema resources, how did you become so passionate about filmmaking?

Munyaneza: I was born in a little village where there was no access to electricity or television. At the age of 7, I could go into town for Sunday worship. After the first service, I would go to the cinema in the centre of the town of Gitega. We watched American movies about the Vietnam war and karate films, as well as other action movies which are attractive to young people. After the film my friends and I would have debates about the reality and whether they had been filmed by satellites. I was always against that idea and told them that behind everything there was someone who was making the film, and I was curious to know how they did it.  That’s why since that time I’ve been interested in the cinema. Unfortunately, in Burundi, there is no film school. After I finished school in 2002, I began to learn by doing. I was given the opportunity to work with a company called MENYA MEDIA which was getting into audiovisual production and I got training in lots of different things, cinema, writing, and I began to make promotional films. The more I worked, the more I learned.

Index: How would you characterise  artistic freedom in Burundi today, and is that any different to when you were growing up?

Munyaneza: To be honest, Burundian cinema really got going with the arrival of digital in the 2000s. Before 2000 there was a feature film called Gito L’Ingrat which was shot in 1992 and directed by Lionce Ngabo and produced by Jacques Sando. After that, there were some productions by National Television and other documentary projects for TV made in-house by National Television. I won’t say that the artistic freedom in those days was so different from today. The evidence is that since those years, I can say after independence, there have not been Burundian filmmakers who have made films about Burundi (either fictional or factual). There were not really any Burundian films made by independent filmmakers between 1960 and 1990. The man who dared to make a film about the 1993 crisis, Kiza by Joseph Bitamba, was forced to go into exile, just as I have been forced to go into exile for my film about the events of  2015. So if you want to make films in Burundi, you either self-censor and you remain in the country or if you don’t, you have to flee the country.

Index: You began receiving threats after you made your second film, Le troisieme vide, in 2016. The film focused on the political crisis that followed the re-election of president Nkurunziza. Why do you think the film received such a reaction?

Munyaneza: Troisieme Vide is a short film which was my final project at the end of my masters in cinema at Saint Louis in Senegal. I knew that just making a film about the 2015 crisis would spark debate. Talking about the events which led to the 2015 crisis, caused by a president who ran for a third term, which he is not allowed to do by the constitution, I was sure that when this film came out I would have problems with the government. But I am not going to be silent like people who are older than me have done, who did not document what went on in Burundi from the 1960s, and have in effect just made the lie bigger. I want to escape this Burundian fate, to at least leave something for the generations to come.    

Index: How did you come to the decision to leave Burundi and what did that feel like?

Munyaneza: Burundi is a beautiful country with a beautiful climate. My whole history is there – my family, my friends. It is too difficult to leave your history behind. The road into exile is something you are obliged to do. It’s not a decision, it’s a question of life or death.

Index: How is life in Belgium, being away from your wife and children?

Munyaneza: It is very difficult for me to continue to live far from my family ties. I miss my children. I remain in this state of powerlessness, unable to do anything for them, to educate them or speak to them. It is difficult to sleep without knowing under what roof they are sleeping.

Index: How has your time in exile affected your work?

Munyaneza: On the work front, there is the film which is making its way. It has been chosen for lots of festivals and awards. I have just got the prize (trophy) for best documentary at the African Movie Academy Award 2018. I was invited but I couldn’t go. I lead a double life, my helplessness away from my loved ones, and the success of the film on the other. I have been invited to several festivals to present my film, but I don’t have the right to leave the country because of my refugee status. I am under international protection here in Belgium.

Index: You have returned to your home country on several occasions to film footage for your films. What dangers are your putting yourself in by doing this? And what drives you to take these risks?

Munyaneza: I risked going back to Burundi in July 2016 and in April 2017 to finish my film. To be honest, I didn’t know how the film was going to end up and sometimes I believed that by negotiating with the politicians it could take end up differently. When you are outside (the country) you get lots of information both from pro-government people and from the opposition. The artist that I am I wanted to go and see for myself and film the situation as it was. Perhaps it was a little crazy on my part but I felt an obligation to do it.

Index: Your most recent film, Uncertain Endings, looks at the violence the country has faced since 2015. In it, you show the repression of peaceful protesters. Why are demonstrators treated in such a way and what does this say about the future of the country?

Munyaneza: The selection of Pierre Nkurunziza as the candidate for the Cndd-FDD after the party conference on 25 April provoked a wave of demonstrations in the country. The opposition and numerous civil society bodies judged that a third term for President Nkurinziza would be unconstitutional and against the Arusha accords which paved the way for the end of the long Burundian civil war (1993-2006).  These young people are fighting to make sure these accords, which got the country out of a crisis and have stood for years, are followed. Unfortunately, because of this repression, we are back to where we started. In fact, we are returning to the cyclical crises which has been going on in Burundi since the 1960s. But what I learnt from the young people was that the Burundian problem was not based on ethnic divides as we were always told. There were both Hutu and Tutsi there, both taking part in defending the constitution and the Arusha accords. It is the politicians who are manipulating us.

Index: Do you hold out any hope of improvements in Burundi? Do you hope one day to be able to return to your home country?

Munyaneza: After the rain, the sun will reappear.  Today it’s a little difficult, but I am sure that politicians will find a way of getting out of this crisis so that we can build this little country. I am sure that one day I’ll go back and make films about my society. I don’t just have to tell stories about the crisis. Burundi is so rich culturally, there are a lot of stories to tell in pictures.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1543844506394-837bd669-b5fd-5″ taxonomies=”29951, 15469″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The revolution will be dramatised

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Influential Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein is often portrayed as the godfather of propaganda in film. David Aaronovitch argues in the summer 2017 issue of Index on Censorship magazine that historical drama can also be manipulative when it ignores details of the past”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

A still from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin, portraying a massacre that never happened. Credit: Wikimedia


My friend, a writer, reminded me of the English romantic poet John Keats’s axiom that “we hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us”. You could say, though, that Lenin and Mussolini – at least when it came to the poetry of film – knew differently. “Of all the arts, for us,” said Lenin, “the cinema is the most important”. “For us” meaning, of course, for the ruling Bolsheviks in the aftermath of the October 1917 revolution. When the Italian dictator Mussolini’s new super studios were opened in 1936 a sign was erected over the gate reading “Il cinema è l’arma più forte”, “cinema is the strongest weapon”.

It was George Orwell, not a dictator (though they doubtless would smilingly have agreed with him) who wrote that, “he who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It is pretty obvious that the way the powerful medium of film depicts the “then” has important implications for what people can be brought to believe about the “now”.

I was brought up partly on films made in the Soviet Union and saw some of the most celebrated early movies when I was young. The director Sergei Eisenstein was the most famous name and before I was 12 I’d seen almost all his films, from the silent Strike made in 1924 to the extraordinarily ambivalent and terrifying two-part classic Ivan the Terrible. Every single one of them can be said to have had some kind of agenda that dovetailed – sometimes perfectly, sometimes awkwardly – with that of the Soviet state.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”custom” align=”right” custom_color=”#dd3333″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”The massacre on the Odessa steps (once seen, never forgotten) from the movie Potemkin didn’t actually happen” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]

The two that were most obviously about Bolshevism and Russia were The Battleship Potemkin, dealing with events in the city of Odessa in 1905, and October, an account of the “ten days that shook the world” – the Bolshevik seizure of power – in Petrograd (St Petersburg) in 1917.

Both deploy Eisenstein’s famous techniques of intercutting, juxtaposition and montage to create mood and drama. Sometimes cutaways of objects or expressions are inserted to refer obliquely to what the viewer is supposed to think of the person or the moment being depicted.

And in both films the actual history is bent for the purposes of the filmmaker. The massacre on the Odessa steps (once seen, never forgotten) from the movie Potemkin didn’t actually happen. The film version of the storming of the Winter Palace in October involved many more actors than the actual event itself. And October was criticised in Keatsian terms by no less a luminary than Lenin’s widow, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya.

The full article by David Aaronovitch is available with a print or online subscription.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Film and the Soviet state”][vc_column_text]

Sidebar by Margaret Flynn Sapia

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”” title=”Strike (1925)”][vc_column_text]The Soviet version of Russian history had two goals: to legitimise the rise and rule of the current government, and to instil its values into future generations. Strikethe first film directed by Sergei Eisenstein, undoubtedly does both. The film, set before the revolution, tells the story of a group of factory workers as they rise up against their abusive management. It begins with a quote by Lenin – “The strength of the working class is organisation” – and ends with a violent strike cross cut with the slaughter of animals. From the first frame to the last, the message is clear.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”” title=”Ivan the Terrible (1944)”][vc_column_text]It is fitting that Joseph Stalin regarded Tsar Ivan IV as his role model, given that the two men men are renowned as two of Russia’s cruelest and most feared leaders. Directed by Eisenstein and commissioned by Stalin himself, Ivan the Terrible takes a stab at telling Ivan’s story in a way that flatters the Stalin regime. The plot portrays the boyars, the highest of bourgeois aristocracy, as internal enemies seeking to undermine the singular strength of Ivan’s leadership, a less-than-subtle parallel for the one-party Soviet state of the 1940’s.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”” title=”Battleship Potemkin (1925)”][vc_column_text]Like a dozen other Soviet films, The Battleship Potemkin depicts the horrors of the tsarist regime and a subsequent popular revolt. It dramatises the true story of a 1905 mutiny by the crew on a Russian battleship, but its most famous and enduring scene, the massacre on the Odessa steps, was entirely invented. However, unlike many of its comrades, this movie was internationally celebrated for its technical excellence, and was ranked as the 11th best film of all time in a 2017 BFI critics poll. Through the film’s five acts, Eisenstein demonstrates that propaganda and art are not mutually exclusive, and that the confines of oppression can sometimes breed incredible creativity.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”” title=”October: 10 Days That Shook the World (1928)”][vc_column_text]A retelling of Russia’s 1917 Revolution, this film creates a fascinatingly skewed representation of the Soviet Union’s rise. While the series of major events in the film is historically accurate, the depictions of Soviet leaders and opposition give the film’s biases away, as key facets of character and decisions are highlighted and hidden. When watching the film, pay special attention to the portrayals of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. [/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”” title=”Panfilov’s 28 Men (2016)”][vc_column_text]Panfilov’s 28 Men demonstrates how Russian manipulation of history did not end with the Soviet Union. Released in 2016, this film is based on a famous but disputed incident in World War II wherein a small group of Russian soldiers purportedly warded off a wave of Nazi tanks and soldiers, all dying in the process. The events were heavily embellished by Soviet propagandists and later debunked, but the film based on them was partially funded by the Russian Ministry of Culture and is widely advertised as an accurate depiction of historical events. Times change, but the Russian regime continues to use cinema to its benefit.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

This article is published in full in the Summer 2017 issue of Index on Censorship magazine. Print copies of the magazine are available on Amazon, or you can find information about print or digital subscriptions here. Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), and Home (Manchester). Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”From the Archives”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”80560″ img_size=”213×289″ alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][vc_custom_heading text=”Reel Drama: WWII propaganda” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]March 2014

David Aaronovitch argues that all’s fair in war against fascist dictatorship, including seducing the United States into war with pretty faces and British accents.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”89184″ img_size=”213×289″ alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][vc_custom_heading text=”The ferghana canal” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]February 2005

The first 145 shots of a shooting-script by Sergei Eistenstein, a prologue to the modern drama of Uzbekistan’s reclamation of its desert wastes.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”98486″ img_size=”213×289″ alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”″][vc_custom_heading text=”Iron fist, silver screen” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]March 1991

An examination of how film is an arm of party propaganda in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, highlighting the 1973 Law on Censorship of Foreign Films.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”100 Years On” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]Through a range of in-depth reporting, interviews and illustrations, the summer 2017 issue of Index on Censorship magazine explores how the consequences of the 1917 Russian Revolution still affect freedoms today, in Russia and around the world.

With: Andrei ArkhangelskyBG MuhnNina Khrushcheva[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”91220″ img_size=”medium” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]In print, online. In your mailbox, on your iPad.

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