Documentaries are staples of Tunis’s Human Screen Festival
Tunis - The Human Screen Festival, founded by the Tunisian Cultural Association of Insertion and Training in 2012, is dedicated to documentaries dealing with human rights issues. Festival organisers have sought to feature cultural projects evoking principles of tolerance and dialogue.
“The festival is faithful to its objectives. It aims to sensitise civil society to the importance of human rights culture,” festival Director Kamel ben Ouanes said. “It is also a space that allows critics and human rights advocates to meet and talk about the real issues that Tunisia is experiencing.
“It is an opportunity to reflect on the role of cinema in promoting the principles of human rights and also valorising the importance of culture.”
The fourth Human Screen Festival, which ran in early September, dealt with terrorism and women’s rights.
“This edition focused on two main issues,” ben Ouanes said. “First, it dealt with the ways cinema and art can fight terrorism. The second issue was women’s rights and the threats to women in a post-revolution era. In this context, we organised panels around these themes in addition to movie screening.”
The festival featured 24 films competing in three categories: long feature films, short films and films about women’s rights.
The award for best short film was given to Tunisian filmmaker Intissar Belaid for her Pousses de Printemps (Spring Shoots). American director Gini Reticker won for her Trials of Spring, a film about women’s rights. A Flickering Truth by Pietra Brettkelly from New Zealand claimed the prize for best long feature.
In addition to screening films, debates and panels featuring human rights advocates and experts dealing with controversial themes were part of the festival.
Robert J. Landy, president of the jury for long features, said documentaries and cinema can help society overcome traumas, such as terrorism.
“Documentaries as a genre bring fiction too to dealing with specific themes. For instance, some of the documentaries screened in the festival used footage of the revolution but they used it to tell a story,” Landy said.
“It helps to work on some of these issues by shedding light on the society living in a revolutionary culture. There is real footage of women being brutalised by police and revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt. This is the festival to have to bring the notions of therapy through art to the audience.”
Amna Guellali, director of Human Rights Watch in Tunisia who served as a member of the jury in the long feature section, emphasised the role of documentaries in functioning as therapy for victims of human rights violations.
“Art, therapy and trauma are all interconnected,” she said. “It is a step towards social restitution for a victim to participate in a movie in order to testify against crimes. It helps to leave the traumatism they lived behind. For the victim, the important thing is to testify in front of a camera. This allows them to recover their voices. It helps reduce their pain.
“Victims of torture can only speak again and be heard in films, which is important from a therapeutic point of view. In systems that are repressive, massive violation of human rights leads to the dehumanisation of victims. There are social categories that are not only dehumanised but are also eliminated in genocide. To have them give their testimonies is to bring them to humanity again. Documentaries bring back the human in them by telling their stories.”
“It is very exciting to be here. All the films were different and powerful. There were films about the refugee’s voyage from Syria to Sweden and to Netherlands speaking about their feelings about their experiences. They are very powerful,” Landy said.
“The most important thing is that the festival is happening and it is happening in Tunisia in particular. It is fascinating that these documentaries are providing better understanding of what the ‘Arab spring’ means. I am personally fascinated by revolutionary democratic Tunisia.”
Debates about the relationship between art and trauma and the image of Arab women in cinema grew heated.
“It is also a space to understand sensitive issues such as terrorism,” Landy said. “A man at one of the panels asked if a terrorist is a human being. That is one of the questions to be asked, especially now. These questions will resonate with me and I think I am lucky to have this opportunity to be a part of this.”