Walid Mattar, rising film director, clinches Carthage festival top award
Tunis - The 28th edition of the Carthage Film Festival marked the comeback of Tunisian cinema, with an unprecedented number of Tunisian films showcased at the event.
Tunisian director Walid Mattar stole the show with his latest film, “The North Wind,” which won Best First Feature Award, Best Script Tanit and the TV 5 Monde Award.
The film, which explores the differences between the northern and southern sides of the Mediterranean, received both critical and popular support at the event, which Mattar, 37, hailed as the birth of a new generation of Tunisian film-makers.
“The Carthage film festival this year showcased the works of many Tunisian film-makers, which revived the artistic vision,” Mattar said. “After the golden age of Tunisian cinema, there was a lack of production and the quality of movies deteriorated. The new generation started off a while back with short films and now it has matured into creating their long features.”
He added that a number of new film-makers, including Hedi Attia and Nejib Belkadhi, had come onto the scene in the past decade, creating successful films that challenged “the stereotypical image we had in movies.”
Mattar’s own journey to becoming a film-maker was not easy.
“I grew up in a small town in the south suburbs of Tunis and I pursued an education in something that has no relation to cinema,” Mattar said. “It was in 2003 that I produced my first short film with the Tunisian Federation of Amateur Filmmakers. I won a prize for the first short film and that sparked my enthusiasm as I realised I can make movies people appreciate.”
He added: “The rest followed. I continued to work and learn. I learnt everything I know about cinema from field work.”
After his first short film, “The battleship Abdelkarim’’(2003), Mattar filmed his first short documentary film, “Son of the Turtle” (2005). In 2006, he co-directed the short film “Good Morning” with Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid. This was followed by another film, “Condemnations,” in 2010. His next film, “Baba Noel” (2012), won the jury prize in the Arab-Franco Film Festival of Noisy-le-Sec.
“My first short films were inspired by the people in my neighbourhood,” Mattar said. “It was in a period of time that was critical so I started filming everything, including my childhood friends who later on illegally emmigrated abroad. And that is how my short film documentary came about.’’
“I wrote ‘Condemnations’ and it was hard to get funding,” he said. “It was a film that constituted a milestone in my career. There was something about the mood of the country and it felt like an end around 2007 and I wanted to keep documenting that in my short films during that period.”
Mattar’s “The North Wind,” set in France and Tunisia, centres on the issue of illegal immigration. He said completing it was a difficult, but worthwhile project.
“I had to take time making my first long feature. I didn’t want to ruin this opportunity,” Mattar said. “I had an idea of a movie taking place in two countries with an atypical structure and that posited many issues for the budget. We showed a lot of determination and we believed in the project we had. We had to apply three times to get funding as we got rejected one time after another.”
Mattar stressed that being a film-maker is “not an inaccessible job,” however.
“It is true that it requires a lot of determination and passion but it is not impossible. This started as a dream for me when I was a child and now I have managed to make my first long feature film,” he said. “I think that is the point. Unless you provide children with some things, they won’t be creative. I was lucky I had the FTCA club.”
Whether set in the popular neighbourhoods of Tunis or across the Mediterranean, Mattar’s films often touch on the issue of illegal immigration.
“I am not really looking to find answers or solve the problem,” Mattar said. “I just want to show the reality of things. People who immigrate have no hopes. It is a form of depression and it is the fault of both the person involved and the government and most of the time it is driven by the frustration of youth who feel life is wasted. I myself want to understand this. I still cannot understand the kind of despair to get there. What would drive a person who doesn’t know how to swim to take a risky and dangerous journey in the sea?” Mattar said.
He added: “This is at the heart of humanity. I believe in this cause because this is one of the basic rights, the freedom of travelling. For Tunisians, it is a struggle to travel even legally. There is a feeling of suffocation that makes things difficult. Others travel freely while we struggle with all the restrictions. For some of these desperate youth, illegal immigration is about breaking those restrictions.”
Mattar said the main focus of his films is to accurately portray human beings in the world they inhabit, whether that is to the north or south of the Mediterranean.
“This is my message: Try to see the human in others,” Mattar said. “There are so many similarities between these main characters in the film even though they are from completely different worlds. Despite the fact one is from France and the second is from Tunisia, both share the same pain by the end of the day. Both are victims.”