Cinema sees revival in post-revolution Tunisia

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

Cinema sees revival in post-revolution Tunisia

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.


Startup of the Week: KSA and Stuff

Startup of the Week: KSA and Stuff
Photo/Supplied
Updated 19 January 2021

Startup of the Week: KSA and Stuff

Startup of the Week: KSA and Stuff

KSA and Stuff is a startup in Jeddah that aims to draw the attention of locals and tourists towards the beautiful landmarks of the city, and introduce its rich culture and heritage in a new light through their contemporary souvenirs.
The startup was founded by Reema Salama and Ayah Samir, and in addition to their products, they are also aiming to spread knowledge about the art and architecture of Saudi Arabia.
“It was a childhood dream, walking along the streets of all cities we have been to and seeing all those souvenir shops, which proudly celebrated all landmarks and culture even if they were simple,” Samir told Arab News.
She added: “Ever since, I was imagining our valuable Saudi landmarks and rich culture spreading and being shared with the world.”
With the beginning of the Kingdom’s move to promote more tourism, the two started to work to turn their dream into a business.
The pair are also architects who believe in the beauty and value of the art and architecture of the Kingdom. The vibrance and high quality of their products have been the selling points of the business, according to their costumers. “People thought that the colors were unique, which attracted them to our products but in reality, each color is inspired by the landmarks and nature.”
Salama took Arab News through the process of making each product, starting with the research and analysis and the story behind each item.
Like every other startup, KSA and Stuff has also faced many challenges, Samir said, adding that it was a relatively new concept, so there were not many examples that they could learn from.
Coming from an architecture background without much knowledge in the business world, she said it was not easy to engage the market. “Another thing that made our job difficult is the lack of documented information about our art and architecture history, so it was a challenge to study the landmarks and characteristics,” Samir explained.
They said that this was just the beginning, however, and that they were aiming to create a full experience for people visiting Saudi Arabia “to spread small, memorable sparkles of each city in Saudi Arabia around the world.”