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.


International Hay Festival set to arrive in the UAE

UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance announced Wednesday that the event will start on Feb. 24. (Supplied)
Updated 38 min 35 sec ago

International Hay Festival set to arrive in the UAE

DUBAI: For its first edition in the Arab World, the international Hay Festival will arrive in the UAE on Feb. 24, at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat and other venues across the city, UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance announced Wednesday. 

The four-day event will host workshops, artistic performances, new technology discovery, storytelling and many more art and literature-related activities.

The festival will take place at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al-Saadiyat and other venues across the city. (Supplied)

Since 1987, the Hay Festival has launched 125 events globally, attracting more than 4.5 million people to events in 30 locations. 

The festival, originally based in Whales, will bring together writers and thinkers from different cultures and backgrounds to discuss ideas, share knowledge and host conversations. 

The festival aims to spark imagination and curiosity, from children and young literature enthusiasts to seasoned readers.

The Minster of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan Mabarak Al-Nahyan said: “Hay Festival Abu Dhabi will be an important initiative of our Year of Tolerance, which celebrates the legacy of our nation’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, whose tolerance enabled the success we enjoy as a country today.”

Minster of Tolerance Sheikh Nahyan Mabarak Al-Nahyan announced the news in a press conference in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied) 

 “(The event) is not only about bringing the festival to Abu Dhabi, but taking Abu Dhabi to the world,” the international director of the Hay Festival, Cristina La Roche, told Arab News.

Cristina La Roche is the international director of the Hay Festival. (Supplied)

The award-winning Syrian poet Adonis is said to be attending the festival and will celebrate his 90th birthday with the participants. “He is one of the world’s greatest poets. He is unquestionably influential not only in Arabic but to poets all around the globe,” Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, told Arab News.   

Peter Florence is the director of Hay Festival. (Supplied) 

Other award-winning novelists like the Saudi Muhammed Hasan Alwan and the Omani Jokha Alharthi will also attend the event. 

Conversations will take place in multiple languages and all sessions will be live translated into Arabic and English. Tickets to all sessions will be free for those in full time education.