Tunisian film wins awards at Berlin festival

Friday 26/02/2016
Producer Dora Bouchoucha (L) looks on as Director Mohamed Ben Attia, winner of the Best First Feature Award for his film Inhebbek Hedi speaks during the award ceremony at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, on February 20th.

Tunis - Inhebbek Hedi, from Tunisian director and scriptwriter Mo­hamed Ben Attia, won the Best First Feature Award at the 66th Berlin International Film Festi­val, the first Arabic film selected for the official competition in 20 years.
The film’s male lead, Tunisian ac­tor Majd Mastoura, won the Silver Bear for best actor.
Inhebbek Hedi depicts the jour­ney of a man of the same name, played by Mastoura, as he struggles at a dead-end job in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution. Days before his wedding, which was ar­ranged by his overbearing mother, he meets a free-spirited woman, played by Rym ben Messaoud, and a love affair ensues.
Ben Attia is a relative newcomer to Tunisian cinema. Inhebbek Hedi — I Love You, Hedi — is his first fea­ture-length film after five shorts.
“Ever since I was a child, I was a fan of writing and films. I used to watch a lot of films but then I start­ed college and had to study busi­ness for four years. It wasn’t until the stage of post-graduate stud­ies that I studied audiovisual for a year,” Ben Attia said.
“Then I went back home and started working as a salesman for 12 years much like the character of the film, Inhebbek Hedi. I met Dora Bouchoucha, the film’s producer, who helped a lot in guiding me. I joined writing workshops and for the following four years. I worked on five short films.”
Ben Attila spent three years writing Inhebbek Hedi, which was filmed in May and June 2015.
“The character of the film is dif­ferent from (my story). We share similarities but it was not based on me. We share the same career path. I started working as a salesman go­ing from one place to another dur­ing an economic crisis since we had just had the revolution then, ” Ben Attia said.
“You go to sell cars from one place to another when people are not willing to buy them. I was fa­miliar with that solitude that the character lived during that period and that self-questioning. That was the departure point for the film.”
Ben Attia expressed surprise and happiness at the festival awards and said they are sparks of hope for everyone in Tunisia and its cinema industry.
“I was enthralled to read all these beautiful posts about how people in Tunisia were so proud of the awards. I honestly haven’t had the chance to truly realise what is go­ing or fully understand this happi­ness. It is almost unreal,” Ben Attia said.
“It is true that a lot of aspects of the film also talk about the possibil­ity of realising our dreams. I believe that it is not naive to believe that everything is possible, that any­thing can happen. If one is passion­ate and sincere about something, it will take time to achieve one’s dream but one should not give up. We should continue working until you realise what you wanted to do.”
Ben Attia said the movie speaks for the concerns of the cinema in­dustry and the Tunisian people as it exposes social taboos in relation to their political context. “I hear this from people now and we need this hope now,” he said. “Eventu­ally, all is possible. All we need is to have more confidence in ourselves. The prize will open new doors for us. There is curiosity about the country now. People are interested in knowing certain things about the country.”
He said the secret of the success of the film is its subtle treatment of post-revolutionary Tunisia.
“The movie is about the journey of a person and this path is open for a second-level reading. It was not meant to be evident or highlighted that I am talking about our revolu­tion. I appreciate that the movie was selected for its value as a film in itself than because of its con­text,” Ben Attia said.
“It is hard today to tell any story, any given story without referring to something related to our [lives]… We cannot alienate ourselves from what surrounds us. The context was implied.”
In his acceptance speech, Mas­toura dedicated his Silver Bear for best actor to the Tunisian revolu­tion and its martyrs.
“There wouldn’t have been lib­erty of expression without all the blood that has been shed in the revolution. I hope we continue be­ing free and happy,” he said.