Cinema of Peace? has audiences talking

Sunday 26/03/2017
Part of the audience during the Cinema of Peace? Festival’s opening night. (Facebook page of Festival Cinema of Peace?)

Tunis - As the movie credits rolled down the screen, the still and dark movie theatre regained life as audience members debated the merits of the film, a 17-year tradi­tion of the Cinema of Peace? festival.
Organised by the Film Society of Tunis, the festival treated audienc­es to films from the Palestinian ter­ritories, Germany, Greece, Morocco, Lebanon, Austria, Switzerland, Por­tugal and Tunisia.
“In 2000 the Film Society of Tu­nis decided to launch the festival as there were very few events dedicat­ed to cinema such as the Carthage Film Festival and the short films day,” said Fatma Bchini, general-secretary of the Tunisian Federa­tion of Film Societies, which over­sees the film society
“It basically dealt with cinema of the south, alternative cinema, in­dependent cinema and all cinema genres that are usually rejected by regulated distribution agencies. The point was to introduce these cinemas to the Tunisian audience and to bring forth provocative ques­tions,” Bchini said.
As the festival grew, organisers were keen on being more selective in the choice of films, which are debated after each screening. Even the title of the event was amended to reflect its inquisitive aspect.
“After a first successful session in 2000, the second session brought a new vision,” Bchini said. “The title then changed to Cinema of Peace? with emphasis on the question mark as the festival was a journey of asking questions. The idea was to have movies around these ques­tions: Fanaticism, Africa, women, exploitation of humanity… These issues were at the core of the debate at the time.”
“Running for a week, a daily screening is scheduled in the pres­ence of an expert or someone who can talk about the issue or theme of the movie. There is a theme for each session that constitutes a guid­ing line for all these films. We also sought new distribution lines as opposed to the commercial ones to reinforce the alternative side of the festival.”
The festival, which focuses on art house cinema and independent films, faced restrictions before the 2011 revolution in Tunisia as certain films were deemed too controver­sial
“Before the revolution, we didn’t have funds,” Bchini said. “It wasn’t until after the revolution that it be­came recognised by the state. The festival was stopped in 2001 when a Palestinian movie was screened.”
“The police were at the doors of the movie theatre. They closed the place and prevented the festival or­ganisers from entering. The Cinema of Peace? switched homes over the years, moving from one movie thea­tre to another because of such con­straints.”
This year’s edition featured seven movies and two workshops with ex­perts in cinema and film-making, all dealing with the theme of human mistakes.
“The movies had one thing in common: The human mistake and what it can produce,” Bchini said. “The idea is that the characters through their bodies show all the mistakes of society. There is the body merchandise, the body in cri­sis, the body criticised, the body sold.”
She added: “These characters are only born out of the human mis­takes around them. The movies deal with such issues as children traffick­ing and women exploitation. We are not born delinquent but we become it depending on our surrounding.”
Moroccan film director Said Khal­laf sparked debate about child ex­ploitation with his film A Mile in My Shoes, which previously competed in the Carthage Film Festival.
“A Mile in My Shoes is inspired by the idiomatic expression that urges people not to judge others. Live their stories, know all the cir­cumstances they went through, then you can judge them, which is the point of the movie that talks about child exploitation and what becomes of them in the future. They are not born criminals,” Khal­laf said.
“This festival provided the right frame for the messages we wanted to convey to people. This way we meet and talk about such issues that are usually overlooked.”
Sana Manai, a student and film buff, said Cinema of Peace? was ap­pealing because it was one of the few festivals that discussed contro­versial issues.
“It is a festival that has a social project in a way since it deals with issues that constitute serious caus­es for humanity such as racism, war, sexuality and others,” Manai said.