Jihadi film that sparked censorship row in France released with 18 certificate

Directors of documentary Salafistes say their aim was to show reality of life under extremists in Africa and Middle East, but some saw it as propaganda

A French documentary about life among jihadi groups in Africa and the Middle East, which sparked a row over censorship, has been given an 18 certificate.

The rare move to give a French documentary an adult certificate came as the film, Salafistes, was released in cinemas in Paris after a debate about whether or not it should be banned.

The directors, François Margolin and Lemine Ould M Salem, said their aim was to show the reality of life in jihadi-controlled areas under sharia law as well as the ideology of radical Salafism.

Footage includes rare interviews with jihadi figures and residents in Mauritania, northern Mali and Tunisia, as well as Iraq. Scenes of everyday violence are interspersed with propaganda footage by groups such as al-Qaida of the Magreb and Islamic State, without added voiceover narration.

Footage of a police officer killed during the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last year was removed from the film at the request of the officer’s family.

After the film was shown at the Fipa international TV festival in Biarritz this month a row erupted in France over whether it was right to show such footage, including extracts from propaganda videos.

Margolin said he was appalled by the row. “We risked our lives, we did it in incredibly difficult conditions because no one else had done it up to this point,” he told BFMTV. “If we risked our lives for it, it was to show what these people think.

“They know very well what we are, what we think. Some have lived here. We wanted to know what they think. I think people today need to know.”

Salem, who gathered footage and interviews in Mali, said he wanted to show what life was like “under these people”.

Claude Lanzmann, the celebrated French film-maker who made the groundbreaking Holocaust film Shoah, entered the debate when he wrote an open letter to Le Monde begging the culture minister not to ban or censor the documentary and calling it a “masterpiece” that shed a light on daily life in areas controlled by jihadis.

Lanzmann pointed out that the last time a documentary was banned in France was during the Algerian war when the film October in Paris, about the police killing of Algerian demonstrators in the French capital in 1961, was censored by the government until 1973.

On Wednesday the culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, announced that Salafistes would be allowed to go on general release with an 18 certificate, as recommended by the film board, which had cited its violence.

Pellerin told Le Monde she had approved the 18 certificate because “the audience needs a certain maturity to appreciate this film.

“But I didn’t censor it,” she added, “because I don’t want to stop a film-maker from producing a documentary.”


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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