Carthage film festival draws large audience despite pandemic

According to the festival’s statistics, 17,000 spectators watched about 120 local and foreign films over the six days of the festival.
Sunday 27/12/2020
Tunisian film director Kaouther Ben Hania (R) at the opening ceremony of the 31st edition of the Carthage Film Days (JCC) film festival at the Opera House in Tunis on December 18, 2020. (AFP)
Tunisian film director Kaouther Ben Hania (R) at the opening ceremony of the 31st edition of the Carthage Film Days (JCC) film festival at the Opera House in Tunis on December 18, 2020. (AFP)

TUNIS–Despite the tight health protocol, the 31st edition of the Carthage Film Festival, which ended on Wednesday evening, succeeded in attracting the general public.

Cinephiles flocked to the cinemas, which for most of them were filled to capacity, with even some announcing exceeding by 30% the limit on moviegoers inside the theatres set by the health authorities in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the festival’s statistics, 17,000 spectators watched about 120 local and foreign films over the six days of the festival.

Festival Director Ridha Bahi said during the closing session, “We worked hard and tried to present an edition worthy of the reputation of the Carthage Film Days. We needed the oxygen of cinema. We thank audiences for coming to the shows without fear while being aware and respectful of the health protocol procedures.” Bahi added that the next edition will take place from October 30 to November 6, 2021.

The festival’s award, the Tanit, was absent from the closing ceremony this year. Instead, the ceremony saw the live performance of a musical entitled The Light Box, led by Tunisian violinist Ziad Zouari and directed by Chedli Arfaoui. The show mixed several art genres, such as music, dance, opera and of course the art of “peace”.

Clips from the prominent films that made the festival’s history and reputation were screened during the show, which left a deep impression on the audience. The delighted audience got to see glimpses of milestone films such as the 1972-film “Al-Asfour” (The Sparrow) by Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, and the 1971-production “Wa Ghadan!” (And Tomorrow!) by Tunisian director Brahim Babai.

Egyptian actor Abdelaziz Makhyoun at the opening ceremony of the 31st edition of the Carthage Film Days (JCC) film festival in Tunis on December 18, 2020A. (AFP)
Egyptian actor Abdelaziz Makhyoun at the opening ceremony of the 31st edition of the Carthage Film Days (JCC) film festival in Tunis on December 18, 2020A. (AFP)

Furthermore, music being the eternal expression of love, Tunisian artist Raoudha Abdallah performed a song entitled “Anta al-Houlm” (You are the dream), specially composed for the festival by Mona Chtourou and distributed by Riadh Labidi.

Cinema fans bid farewell to the thirty-first session by watching the comedy film “Bulbul” by director Khadija Lemkacher and starring Fatma Ben Saidane, Fethi Akkari and ChedlyArfaoui.

Bulbul is the main character of the film. She is a woman in her fifties, married to a drunkard who goes out every evening only to return home drunk very late at night. So Bulbul spends her time alone sitting in the balcony of her apartment in a ramshackle building that time has weathered just like it weathered Bulbul’s pale face.

Bulbul sits on the balcony waiting for nightfall, and in the meantime she sees a wedding in the wedding hall opposite her balcony, so she decides to go to the wedding as if she were one of the guests in order to exorcise the ghost of the loneliness from her life.

All dolled up for the occasion, Bulbul storms in the wedding hall with such gusto and enthusiasm that nobody suspects anything. She starts singing and dancing with the newlyweds and their families as if she had known them for ages, then she took a break, slipping all the while a few pieces of the pastries offered in her bag.

Back in her apartment, Bulbul felt liberated of her loneliness. She felt happy and offered her morose husband the sweets she took in her bag. From that moment on, Bulbul became a career wedding crasher.

The film then follows Bulbul’s adventures as a wedding crasher. Among these adventures was a wedding organised by religious extremists and another one organised by criminals and which was crashed by the police. Through this diversity of social milieus, the film director sought to highlight that Tunisian society is accepting and open to the other. Even though the film’s heroine din not change with the different traditions and atmospheres of the weddings she crashed, she nevertheless made the effort to adjust and merge with them, which made her welcomed by the everyone in attendance at these weddings.

A host walks onstage at the opening ceremony of the Carthage Film Days (JCC) film festival on December 18, 2020. (AFP)
A host walks onstage at the opening ceremony of the Carthage Film Days (JCC) film festival on December 18, 2020. (AFP)

This year’s edition was special in the festival’s long history. The Carthage Film Festival was founded in 1966 by the late Tunisian film-maker Taher Chria. Until 2014, it alternated with the Carthage Theatrical Days, but since then, it became an annual event. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was almost cancelled. There were no prizes awarded in this year’s edition.

The festival’s artistic director, Brahim Letaief, said at the closing ceremony, “There is no better time than the closing ceremony to look back at those who made cinema history and to recall their award-winning films in the previous thirty sessions. It is also the perfect occasion to remember all of the technicians and artists who passed away and honour their behind-the-scenes contributions to great cinematic achievements which shall remain engraved forever in the history of Tunisian, Arab, and world cinema.”

The festival paid tribute to Lotfi Siala, Faouzi Thabet, Mustafa Negbo, Hussein Al-Soufi, Cherif Bousnina and Mohamed Ali Cherif, who all passed away in 2020. They were technicians, critics, and professionals in the audio-visual field.

In addition to its usual activities, this year’s festival included a forum entitled “Carthage Film Days: Past, Present and Future”, which came as a result of workshops of reflection and action held over a period of four months. The forum produced a set of recommendations, centred around seven main axes, for the festival to work on until 2023. Among them are: establishing a Higher Council for Carthage Film Days beginning in March 2021, and setting up four technical departments,starting from May 2021, to work on collecting and archiving the Tunisian cinematic memory composed of over 8,000 photographs.

The beginning of the year 2022 was set for the evaluation of the seminars that were completed in the 2021, and to evaluate the works of the Supreme Council of Carthage Film Days. In March 2022, the Carthage Film Days team will be restructured in line with the future of the local, Arab and international cinema scene.

In April 2022, the festival’s budget will be re-examined to search for new means of financing and ensure its sustainability, while the February 2023 meetings will review the achievements of the previous two years, so that, starting from the year 2023, the festival will review its legal framework.