Cinema sees revival in post-revolution Tunisia

Tunisian filmmakers are making the most of newfound freedoms to tackle issues banished for decades from the silver screen, prompting a post-revolution cinema revival. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018
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Cinema sees revival in post-revolution Tunisia

  • Just two or three films a year were released during the 2000s, but the industry has rebounded since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
  • A dozen feature films are now made each year and new cinemas are opening up.

TUNIS: Tunisian filmmakers are making the most of newfound freedoms to tackle issues banished for decades from the silver screen, prompting a post-revolution cinema revival.
“Since 2011, one of the most tangible benefits we’ve seen is the ability to talk about all topics, especially themes of society, our daily life, its complexity and its richness,” said producer Habib Attia.
“In cinema it pays to have that sincerity.”
Just two or three films a year were released during the 2000s, but the industry has rebounded since the 2011 uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
A dozen feature films are now made each year and new cinemas are opening up.
Some 200,000 people flocked to the cinema this year to watch “El Jaida” by filmmaker and activist Salma Baccar about the fight for women’s rights in Tunisia.
Such box office figures are the highest in 15 years, said Lassaad Goubantini, one of Tunisia’s leading film distributors.
Mehdi Barsaoui, a Tunisian director, said filmmakers are “no longer forced to skirt” rules imposed by the former regime “through unsaid things and metaphors.”
His first feature film examines organ trafficking between Tunisia and Libya in the chaos after the two countries’ revolutions, which is being shot in Tunisian studios and the country’s south.
“It’s in direct speech and with a form of authenticity that allows universal stories to be told with a local stamp,” he said, while filming at a squalid dormitory for trafficked children.
“The renaissance is due to the closeness of the writers” to reality, Barsaoui said.
The country’s filmmakers have also seen success abroad, with Mohamed Ben Attia’s “Hedi,” a love story set in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, picking up an award at the 2016 Berlin film festival.
Last year, Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Beauty and the Dogs,” about a Tunisian woman seeking justice after being raped, was screened at Cannes before its international release.
Tunisian directors are also turning their attention to a reality rarely talked about by government officials — the radicalization of the country’s youth.
They include Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s “Fatwa,” due for release next year.
Ben Hania addresses the theme through the eyes of a father whose sons have gone to fight in Syria in “My Dear Son,” which was screened at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes.
The latter two titles have been chosen for the official competition at Tunisia’s own Carthage Film Festival, which runs from November 3 to 10.
Filmmakers are also experimenting with cinematic styles, such as silent film and mobile phone clips.
Another film featuring on the Carthage program is “Dachra” by Abdelhamid Bouchnak, dubbed Tunisia’s first horror film.
Earlier this year, it was shown at critics’ week in Venice, a sidebar to the main festival that promotes emerging talent.
But creative clout is not enough to entirely revamp an industry, with the business side also needing modernization.
“Now each release is accompanied by promotional campaigns, previews, screenings with debates and screenings in the regions,” said Goubantini, the distributor.
As a result, attendance at film screenings has increased by 10 to 15 percent each year since 2012, according to figures from distribution firm Hakka.
But it is hard to compile accurate figures, with no electronic ticketing system in place and no clear relationship between producers and distributors.
“We have a diamond in the rough, but it still needs to be cut,” said Kais Zaied, a young co-founder of Hakka which was launched in 2013.
The biggest challenge in Tunisia is the shortage of cinemas. From just a handful in 2012, the country now has around 15.
Screenings are also held at community centers, while some old cinemas are being restored.
The international chain Pathe Gaumont plans to open an eight-screen multiplex in Tunis soon, with another to follow in the coastal city of Sousse.
But there is still a long way to go, as Hakka co-founder Amal Saadallah estimates Tunisia needs at least 100 cinemas to create a strong industry.


Opening the door to Middle Eastern designers at Dubai Design Week

Updated 14 November 2018
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Opening the door to Middle Eastern designers at Dubai Design Week

  • This year, five pavilions from Amman, Beirut, Dubai, the Eastern Provinces of KSA and Kuwait City are showing off
  • The Abwab exhibit is just one thought-provoking, Instagram-worthy part of Dubai Design Week

DUBAI: Named after the Arabic word for “doors,” Abwab is an annual exhibition at Dubai Design Week, a creative fair that runs until Nov. 17.

This year, five pavilions from Amman, Beirut, Dubai, the Eastern Provinces of KSA and Kuwait City are showing off their artistic innovations in Dubai Design District, where the event is based.

Two designers were invited from each place to collaborate and produce works related to the theme “Between the Lines.”

The creations are housed in five pavilions at the heart of Dubai Design District, made up of red twigs and newspaper pulp and designed by the firm Architecture + Other Things.

Visitors crowded around the pavilions at the opening of the fair on Tuesday and explored the five spaces with their unique, sometimes perplexing, offerings.

Amman‘s pavilion at the Abwab exhibit is called “Duwar,” roundabout in Arabic, and is described as a representation of the cycle between chaos and order. The exhibit is a walk-through piece featuring moving images on boards suspended from the low ceiling of the circular space. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the dark circular corridor and take in the constantly flashing imagery above them in the piece that was created by multidisciplinary designer Hashem Joucka and architect Basel Naouri.

Beirut’s contribution to the Abwab exhibit is called “Beirut Fillers” and features a series of suspended words in a constructed sensorial environment, complete with audio recordings of the words “euhhh,” “halla2,” “enno” and “fa,” all of which are linguistic fillers commonly heard in Beiruti conversation.  

For its part, the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is showcasing a fascinating piece of work called “The Sound of the East Coast” that pays homage to the tradition of pearl diving in the area with shaking, jelly-like bowls. The installation even features audio recordings of the traditional song “El Yamal,” often chanted to keep the divers motivated.

While Kuwait City’s offering, called “Desert Cast,” uses locally sourced materials and production methods to explore the idea of identity in the country, Dubai’s piece at the exhibit is called “Thulathi: Threefold” and is marked by a protruding triangular section that breaks the natural form of the rounded pavilion. Each corner of the triangle opens slightly through apertures, revealing video projections and silhouette cutouts.

The Abwab exhibit is just one thought-provoking, Instagram-worthy part of Dubai Design Week, an event that boasts workshops, exhibits and a trade fair.