Palme d’Or winners the Dardenne brothers issue statement following the cancellation of the Ramdan Film Festival over terrorist threats and the evacuation of a cinema.
Le Festival Ramdan was due to run from Jan 20-27 at the Imagix Cinema in Tournai, a city in the French-speaking part of Belgium.
But the week-long festival was abandoned yesterday after authorities in Tournai stated there were “serious” indications of a risk of an attack on the cinema.
The Imagix Cinema will remain closed until at least Jan 28. The move follows the attack on the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this month, where 12 people were killed by two radicalised brothers offended by its cartoon depictions of the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
It also follows the shooting of two suspected jihadists by police in an anti-terror operation in eastern Belgium. A third person was also arrested in the raid in Verviers, where weapons were reported to have been recovered.
In Tournai, local press has speculated that the planned Ramdan screenings of documentary The Essence Of Terror and Oscar-nominated feature Timbuktu may have sparked the terrorist threat.
Timbuktu, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, centres on the brief occupation of the West African city by militant Islamic rebels.
The film, which is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars and won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival, was recently banned by the mayor of Paris suburb Villiers-sur-Marne - a decision that has since been reversed following a public outcry in support of the film.
Timbuktu is currently playing to sold out theatres at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
The 5th edition of Le Festival Ramdan was also due to host a screening of Two Days, One Night, attended by directors the Dardenne brothers, which has been cancelled as a result of the closure.
In a statement, the double Palme d’Or winners said: “We are very sad that this cultural event has been cancelled because of terrorist threats.
“The obscurantism has already done a lot of damage and keeps on that way. But we are optimists because don’t forget that obscurantism has always lost the battles against our desires of freedom, sharing and discussion.”
Speaking to ScreenDaily, Thierry Laermans of Belgium cinema federation FCB gave an eyewitness account of what happened.
“I was in Tournai yesterday and was evacuated from the cinema,” Laermans said.
The cinema closed down at around 5.15pm and the audience was asked to leave. “There was no panic. It was very calm,” Laermans said. ”It was just a precautionary measure. Nothing happened.”
“As a consequence of what happened in Paris and in Verviers last Tuesday, I think it was the Federal Police, the terror agency, that asked the cinema to close down because they had indications that something like that would happened to them. Let’s hope it’s a one shot thing and it won’t prohibit visitors to come to cinemas.”
Imagix director Peter Carpentier could not be reached for comment and details of the threat have not been confirmed.
However, the festival has issued a statement on its website, stating that it celebrates “tolerance, liberty and exchange” and claiming that “the soul of the festival” will be reinforced by this event.