Carthage Film Festival celebrates Arab and African cinema

Sunday 13/11/2016
Tunisian director Khaouther Ben Hania (R) receives the Golden Tanit award for her film Zaineb Hates the Snow, during the closing ceremony of the 27th Carthage Film Festival on November 5th, in Tunis. (AFP)

Tunis - At a time of economic, political and social hardships, the Carthage Film Festival provides a platform for artists and film-makers to voice concerns and document history as witnesses and artists.
Internationally recognised as a magnet for young enthusiasts, new talents, famous film-makers and movie stars, the festival has con­tributed to the development of the public’s cinematographic taste.
Over the years, the Carthage Film Festival, or as Tunisians call it “the JCC”, has made efforts to raise pub­lic awareness of major societal and cultural issues in Africa and the Arab region.
The 27th edition of the festival was launched October 27th at a glitzy ceremony attended by iconic figures of cinema, critics and fans. Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed stressed the value of the arts and culture in fighting terror­ism as he opened the festival.
“The progress of countries can­not be measured only in terms of social and economic progress but rather by cultural progress as cul­ture has an important role in fight­ing extremism, in fighting terror­ism and in opening minds,” Chahed said.
“In our war against terrorism, culture must have an important role in society. Most importantly, the cultural product must be ori­ented to the youth.”
Speakers paid tribute to the lives lost during the terrorist attack that interrupted the festival last No­vember. Festival Director Ibrahim Ltaief reflected on the importance of reminding the public that art can surmount violence and terrorism.
“The festival has acquired a strong symbolic value after it was shortly interrupted last year by the horrible terrorist attack on police­men during the first days of the festival. Twelve innocent lives were lost at the hands of extremism,” Ltaief said.
“The paradox was that it signalled a new beginning and a new mean­ing for the festival as more people came to the movie theatres in the wake of that tragedy. The audience refused to let terrorism stop art and continued to attend. In retrospect, even international headlines high­lighted the festival’s resistance, rather than the attack itself.”
In addition to its defiance of ter­rorism, the 2016 festival marked the 50th anniversary of the event’s cre­ation. Festival organisers celebrat­ed the anniversary by dedicating a special section for the screening of award-winning films as well as documentaries about African and Arab cinema. Panels and screenings were put together in cooperation with the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and African Federation of Cinema Critics.
Tunisian director Mohamed Challouf, in charge of the 50th an­niversary programme, emphasised the festival’s role in decentralising art and showcasing African and Arab cinema.
“This festival is not a Tunisian celebration but it is an African and Arab celebration of cinema,” he said. “This festival was born to be an opportunity to display Arab and African cinema. This festival was born after a shocking event experi­enced when visiting the Berlin In­ternational Film Festival.”
Tunisian film critic Tahar Che­riaa said he “was surprised to see that he was the only one present at the news conference for the only Arab film — from Egypt — screened at the Berlin festival. Once back in Tunisia, Cheriaa started working on a festival that would display Arab and African films and “decentralise the monopolisation of European film festivals”.
Cheriaa’s efforts resulted in the Carthage Film Festival. Since its inception in 1966, the festival has marked milestones in the careers of Arab and African film-makers such as Sembene Ousmane and Youssef Chahine.
“This edition is unique, as it co­incides with the 50th anniversary. Many guests of the festival in its early editions remained faithful, always attending. This calls for a journey back in time to the very be­ginning of the festival to stress the importance of the patrimony of the festival and the importance of the past editions,” Challouf said.
“This anniversary also calls for a pause to see where the festival is going. The festival became annual and we need to look at how it is go­ing to continue afterward.”
This year’s festival had 18 films competing in the long feature cat­egory and 13 films in the Tahar Cheriaa First Film award category. The festival selected 19 films for the short films category.
The festival highlighted Russian and Asian cinema in the World Cin­ema section and paid homage to Chahine, the late Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, and Tunisian di­rector Kalthoum Bornaz.
The festival toured various Tu­nisian towns as part of the decen­tralisation strategy of introducing the films to the parts of the coun­try where there is little exposure to such cinema.
As part of that strategy, several films were also screened inside prisons. The screenings featured Ridha Behi’s The Flower of Aleppo, which dwells on the issues of ter­rorism and religious extremism, as the opening film.
The festival added a free screen­ing on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the central street in Tunis.
“Fifty years into the festival, the Carthage Film Festival played an important role in all the crucial historical moments of the coun­try. When there was still colonisa­tion that oppressed all attempts of national expression in Africa, the festival was one of the tools that participated in the expression and liberation of colonised countries,” Ltaief said.
“It was the festival that encour­aged men who loved cinema to fight against the appropriation of cinema and played a role in the preservation of national identity.”
The festival concluded with an award ceremony during which the Gold Tanit Award for Best Feature film went to Tunisian film-maker Kaouther Ben Hania for Zaineb Hates the Snow. The Silver Tanit went to the Egyptian film Clash by Mohamed Diab and the Bronze Tanit was awarded to Palestinian film 3000 Nights by Mai Nasri.
The Best Female Interpreta­tion Tanit was awarded to Oulaya Amamra and Deborah Lukumuena for their roles in the Moroccan film Divines by Houda Benyamina and the Best Male Interpretation Tanit was won by Foued Nabba for his role in the Tunisian film Chouf (Look).
In the Tahar Cheriaa Award for First Film category, the Golden Tanit went to the Tunisian film The Last of Us by Ala Eddine Slim. The Silver Tanit went to Let Them Come by Salem Brahimi from Algeria. The Jury Special’s prize was given to the Lebanese film This Little Father Ob­session by Selim Mourad.