Back to Origins and Openness

in 26th Carthage Film Festival

by Hassan El Echi

Since its founding by the film critic Tahar Cheriaa in 1966, this festival has seen so many different changes that it almost lost its primary objective to develop “cinematographic production in Africa and the Arab world.” The 26th edition of the festival emphasized the idea of going back to origins. For that reason, the opening film was Lamb by Ethiopian director Yared Zeleke. In addition, CREDIF (Centre de Recherches, d’Etudes, de Documentation et d’Information sur la Femme), the center for women’s studies, named its award after Safi Faye, the first African female film director, born in Dakar in 1943.

Unsurprisingly, the official poster this year was also highly symbolic, depicting Cheriaa alongside the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène. What distinguishes this festival from previous editions is that it is has been declared, for the first time, an annual event despite all the financial challenges of post-revolutionary Tunisia. Indeed, the festival team was so inspired by the spirit of revolution as to program the Arab premiere of Much Loved, Nabil Ayouch’s film which has been banned in its home country of Morocco for “ethical” reasons.

The richness of this year’s festival lies not only in its meetings and conferences of intellectuals but in its “decentralization” of screenings. For the first time, four films were screened in several Tunisian prisons. Facilitators allowed producers and actors to access these spaces and offer prisoners an opportunity to experience extraordinary moments of hope and temporary escape from their bitter realities.

Besides the capital, the festival was held in twelve other cities, all over the country, despite the absence of theaters in some regions (Tunisia used to have over 130 cinemas just after independence, but today there are only thirteen left, most of them in the capital). Ten films were also screened for students at the University of Mannouba.

There was an official feature film competition, consisting of seventeen films (seven African and ten Arab), as well as competitions for short films, documentaries and debut films. There was also a rich, diverse selection of parallel programs, including a focus on Tunisian cinema (seven films), a selection of world cinema, a spotlight on the Berlinale and German films, Argentinean and Italian programs, and a section in which nineteen of the award-winning films from the FESPACO festival in Ouagadougou were screened.

Festival director Ibrahim Letaief met with various organizations and committees to work on the film selection, inviting them to present suggestions. This initiative brought about the introduction of the New Territories section, which provides an introduction to the most innovative and subversive films.

The University of Mannouba held a symposium titled “Literature and Cinema Viewpoints and intertextuality”, attended by a mix of students, researchers, critics and journalists. As for the tributes, Manoel De Oliveira was honored with a six-film retrospective, while ten films by Tunisian director Nouri Bouzid were shown. There were also two films from the great Algerian poet, writer and director Essia Djabbar. The late director Habib Masrouki, who trained at the Cinema Amateur Club, was also celebrated.

The festival director is to be thanked for introducing the parallel jury alongside the official jury this year. This was not formerly the case – the parallel jury used to be introduced on the day before closing, receiving little attention.

The programming team included some talented young people who showed an open-minded spirit in selecting a range of high-quality international films dealing with all the globalization-related issues that our contemporaries are caught up with, including colonization, racism, poverty and ignorance.

This edition of the festival was outstanding, and what made it all the more successful was the outstanding attendance: the audience courageously turned up even after the insidious terrorist attack of November 24. Despite this incident, the festival director decided to proceed with the slogan “the culture of life against the culture of death.”

Edited by Lesley Chow