The 30th Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF)opens today at the city's opulent Opera House amid a growing controversy overcensorship.

While jury chairman Luis Puenzo, Jacqueline Bisset and DannyGlover are scheduled to attend the glittering event presided over by Egypt'sMinister of Culture HE Farouk Hosney, first-time director Marc Ellegard willnot be in Cairo with his feature BurningLight after it was abruptly disinvited by the festival at the 11th hour forcensorship reasons.

Belgian national Ellegard's feature Burning Light, which addresses the concept of "terrorism" throughthe eyes of two disillusioned young European men, was invited to both theFestival of Festivals section and to the Digital Competition, a new programmeaimed at "encouraging young talents working in the digital field". Afterreceiving a formal invitation in October, Ellegard received a note from thefestival president in November, following the film's screening for the censors.

It is rumoured that at least one other title has sufferedthe same fate this year.

Ellegard's letter said: "The sentence 'God is dead' isrepeated four times in your film Burning Light. Ofcourse, the idea that God is dead is refused and forbidden in all religions."

"We found it surprising, given that the festival was excitedby the artistic merits of the film," said producer JC Crissey. The festival didoffer Ellegard the option of cutting the lines, but this is something thedirector didn't feel he could do. "It seems the film was misread -- we are hereto promote dialogue," said Ellegard. "The lines explain the character'sfeelings, but don't reflect the philosophy of the film."

Youssef Rizkallah, CIFF artistic director, told that there are two areasthe festival cannot touch: "If there is a film that talks about religion or hasgay themes, then it's not acceptable. Nudity is ok, but we are a Muslim countryand cannot offend people." Rizkallah maintains that in the history of thefestival, these incidences are rare.

Recognised by theInternational Federation of Film Producers' Associations (FIAPF), CIFF's welcoming statement says, "Art has alwaystranscended all barriers, serving as the link between the world's differentcountries, races and religions."
For the first time this year, CIFF's international competition includesthree Egyptian films - Hala Khalil's Cutand Paste, Emad el Bahat's Hide andSeek, and Khaled El Hagar's None ButThat!, the first Egyptian musical, described as "Moulin Rouge style".

But despite the fact that the Egyptian film industry has hada successful year in which production levels rose and young directors scoredinternational successes with TheYacoubian Building and Cannes title These Girls, conservative forces stillhold sway.

While the controversy over Burning Light can be seen as a mismatch between the desires of theprogrammers and those of the powers-that-be, Egypt is struggling generally witha creeping conservatism - due to general political trends, and theconsolidation of production and distribution into the hands of a few moguls,some with traditionalist tendencies.

CIFF has a strong Latin American presence this year, with aGuest of Honour programme including films from Peru, Argentina and Brazil, andother Latin American directors (Brazilian Sergio Rezende, Mexicans RamonCervantes and Patricia Arrega, and Argentinian Marcelo Schapces) included inthe international competition. Breno Silveira's 2 Filhos Do Francisco, Brazil'scontender for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, is the opening nightfilm. CIFF runs until Dec 8.