Film on radicalisation of youth gets top award at Carthage Film Festival

The film, which received the top award, explores how extremist groups manipulate the meaning of formerly innocuous terms, such as “fatwa.”
Sunday 18/11/2018
Burning issue. Tunisian film writer and producer Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud poses with the Gold Tanit for Feature Film trophy for his film “Fatwa” during closing ceremonies of the 29th Carthage Film Festival, on November 10 in Tunis. (AFP)
Burning issue. Tunisian film writer and producer Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud poses with the Gold Tanit for Feature Film trophy for his film “Fatwa” during closing ceremonies of the 29th Carthage Film Festival, on November 10 in Tunis. (AFP)

TUNIS - A film about the draw of radicalisation on young Tunisians received the top award at the 29th Carthage Film Festival.

The festival, which attracted thousands of local and international guests, included more than 200 films from 47 countries.

Tunisian director Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud was presented with the Gold Tanit for best feature film for “Fatwa,” the story of Brahim who hears of his son’s involvement in a radical Islamist group following his deadly motorcycle accident. Shocked by the rumours, Brahim embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth.

The film explores how extremist groups manipulate the meaning of formerly innocuous terms, such as “fatwa.” “When I was a child and… part of a religious family, ‘fatwa’ had a positive connotation,” Ben Mahmoud noted at the film’s premiere.

Ben Mahmoud expressed his feelings about the role of cinema while accepting the Gold Tanit.

“I want to say that cinema plays an important role, like all cultural products, to open the minds of youth and protect them from these criminal deviances that targeted our country,” he said.

“I want to dedicate this film to all Tunisian and Arab families that lived the tragedy of losing their children to jihad and tell them education, awareness and promoting noble and universal values are the most effective means to defy this calamity.”

The Silver Tanit went to Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawky’s “Yomeddine” and the Bronze Tanit went to Syrian director Joud Said’s “Le voyage inacheve” (“Unfinished Trip”).

The Gold Tanit and Bronze Tanit for fiction short film went to Tunisian directors, Meryem Joobeur’s “Brotherhood” and Nidhal Guiga’s “Astra,” respectively. Beninese director Kelley Kali took home the Silver Tanit for her film “Lalo’s House.”

In the documentary feature film category, the Gold Tanit went to “Amal” by Egyptian director Mohamed Siam. Amal Ramsis, another Egypt-based director, took home the Silver Tanit for “You Come from Far Away” and the Bronze Tanit was presented to “Erased, Ascent of the Invisible” by Lebanese director Ghassan Halwani.

Kenya’s Samantha Mugatsia took home the award for best actress for her work in “Rafiki” and Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafiane won best actor for his performance in “Fatwa.”

Despite concerns about security following a suicide bombing five days before the festival opened and just blocks from the venue, the festival concluded without incident. In his opening remarks festival Director Nejib Ayed commended foreign visitors for not shying away from the festival following the attack, noting that “the organising committee (had) recorded no cancellation of the 500 foreign guests.”

As for the festival itself, Ayed emphasised its influence on the cultural scene of the region and the festival’s role in tackling important issues.

“This festival will always boast a spirit of resistance and fighting for causes as it will be a space for (freedom of) exchange and tolerance,” he said. “In adopting these foundations, we are at the heart of modernity but we maintain our special aspect. We do not aspire to imitate other cinema festivals.”

In addition to promoting Arab and African cinema, the festival celebrated the cinematic tradition of Iraq, Senegal, Brazil and India. Ayed said he wanted to cement the festival’s role as a voice for the professionals of the industry first and foremost.

“The festival will continue to serve as a platform for professionals of the industry, including the film-makers, the producers, the owners of film theatre (and) the distributors of films,” he said. “The festival is not a festival of stars but for cinema lovers and professionals to improve and support the industry.”

Guests were treated to many activities, including master classes, debates and panels. This year’s panel theme was violence against women. The panel was headed by Tunisian activists Yosra Frawes and Bochra Triki. Tunisian actresses Hend Sabri and Najoua Zouhair were part of the panel.

“When it comes to treating the subject in cinema, there is always double language,” Sabri said. “We cannot use a facade and say we have emancipated women in cinema when cinema (uses) violence against female characters and against the actresses.”

Sabri continued her criticism of the poor treatment of women in Arab cinema as she commended Tunisian film-makers for portraying strong women.

“It’s only recently that we started talking about the ‘Me, Too’ movement in Hollywood,” she added. “Imagine the case of the Arab world. It is an industry that hurts women. The repertoire of Tunisian cinema is full of examples of emancipated women but the society does not follow. It is also dangerous to showcase an image that is not embraced by the society.”

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