Documentaries are staples of Tunis’s Human Screen Festival

Sunday 25/09/2016
Elyes Baccar, artistic director of the festival, at the closing ceremony.

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.”