Tunisian Majd Mastoura named Best Arab Actor at Cannes Film Festival
Tunis - Tunisian actor Majd Mastoura was chosen Best Arab Actor at the Arab Critics’ Awards during the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Mohamed Ben Attia’s breakout film “Inhebek Hedi.”
Chosen by a jury of 24 film critics from 15 countries, the Arab Critics’ Award aims to encourage and promote Arab cinema.
“I could not be happier to receive this award. I am also more and more grateful to those who contributed to making this film a successful experience, especially Mohamed Ben Attia,” Mastoura said.
Mastoura plays the role of Hedi, a man torn between conservative society’s expectations and his dreams and ambitions. The movie, set against the backdrop of post-revolution Tunisia, explores the effects of political and economic changes on the lives of characters who navigate daily problems.
Praised for his portrayal of the character’s inner turmoil, Mastoura won a Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2016. Ben Attia won the Best First Feature Award at the festival.
“Winning the Silver Bear showed me that I have a place in the acting world and that I need to work harder on establishing this,” Mastoura said. “I don’t think we can talk about Tunisian cinema without enough movies to be the substance for a cinematographic experience that has its features and audience.”
Although acting is a relatively new passion for the 27-year-old, Mastoura recalled how his interest in the profession dates to when he joined a theatre club at the age of 11. While it lasted only three years due to his family’s travelling around the country, the experience had a lasting impact on Mastoura.
“When I was a child, I dreamt of being an actor. I also dreamt of becoming an astronaut, a lawyer and a writer. Growing up, I gave up acting because of my studies and thought I was not fit for acting anymore,” Mastoura said.
Mastoura said he was influenced by films he watched during his childhood. As an adult, he was friends with members of Tunisia’s leading cinema associations. It was with those connections that Mastoura helped create a film festival in his hometown of Bizerte in 2013.
He did not begin seriously acting, however, until a friend, director Jilani Saadi, suggested he participate in his long feature “Bidoun 2.” “It was with this experience that I became more interested in pursuing acting,” Mastoura said.
Mastoura’s roles often depict the concerns of Tunisia’s younger generations amid the political and social turmoil of the region. This was the case in “Bidoun 2″ and “Inhebek Hedi.”
“Hedi is a calm man as his name would suggest,” Mastoura said. “He is not the kind of person to express himself and defend his ideas but he is sensitive and he holds in all the pressure he is subdued to, which soon explodes when he meets Rim.”
“We are different from each other,” Mastoura said of the character. “So different, in fact. I defend and fight for my ideas and opinions but we have in common the fact we are both young Tunisian men who are looking for themselves in a nation that is also looking for itself.”
Mastoura does not define himself solely as an actor. Before acting, he was part of a literary collective Street Poetry, which encouraged writing in the Tunisian dialect through staging public readings in the streets.
“It wasn’t always my dream to become an actor,” he said. “Even now, I do not consider myself just an actor but rather someone who is passionate about acting, someone whose career is acting. I want to keep acting until the last day of my life but I do not think you can restrict a person to one activity.
“Till now, to be honest, I am more passionate about writing than acting.”
He said street poetry helped reshape the relationship with writing in the Tunisian dialect and connected youth with art on the street.
While Mastoura noted that Tunisian cinema faces many obstacles, he said that recent productions have displayed promising “artistic vision.”
“The problem is that acting cannot be a career in Tunisia and I am not talking about the few actors that can earn a living by acting. There is no social security or fixed working hours or state subsidised contracts for in between shows for actors like in France,” said Mastoura, adding that “the state of Arab cinema is a controversial topic.”
He added: “Where are the movie theatres? Where is cinema in the cultural politics of these countries? Do these countries have cultural politics in the first place? The good news is that they created an Arab Cinema Centre, which is going to be of great importance for Arabic cinemas in addition to the network of Arab television.”
Mastoura is embarking on a new artistic adventure: A dance performance with Tunisian choreographer Radhouane el-Meddeb. The performance is to premiere in July in France at the Avignon Festival.