When art beats terror
Tunis - Large crowds gathered outside Tunis cinemas sang the Tunisian national anthem as they waited for tickets for the Carthage Film Festival less than 12 hours after a suicide bomber killed 12 presidential guards in the city. More than 20 others were wounded in the November 24th attack, which led to the declaration of a state of emergency and a curfew in the Tunisian capital.
Tunisians refused to let the act of terrorism stop them from getting on with their lives. Along the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main street through downtown Tunis, people celebrated life with festivities in movie theatres and on street concerts.
Organisers, in defiance of the threat of terrorism, continued the festival, modifying screening hours to comply with the curfew. In a news conference following the attacks, festival director Ibrahim Letaif, announced that the 26th edition of the festival would go on.
“It is the only way to respond to these barbaric acts,” Letaif said. “No guests expressed their desire to leave the country. They are all staying.”
The Carthage Film Festival — the oldest cinema festival in Africa and the Arab world — is a much-anticipated event. Theatre operators await the vibrancy the festival creates for what are almost deserted theatres of downtown Tunis as well as other Tunisian towns.
“It has become a tradition for most of us. We wait impatiently for the festival and now it has become annual, which means we have the chance to enjoy the unique spirit it offers every year,” said filmgoer Sarah, 22.
The 2015 edition of the festival invited spectators to more than 300 films from 58 countries. The films competed in categories, including short films, long features, debut films and Carthage Ciné- Promesses.
The festival poster paid homage to two iconic figures of the world of African cinema; Tunisian film-maker Tahar Cheriaa and Senegalese director, producer and writer Ousmane Sembene.
Though still shocked by the terrorist attacks that have plagued Tunisia, many emphasised the importance of art in combating radicalism.
“Tunisian cinema is a weapon against ignorance. The government needs to support the distribution of films more,” said Hend Boujemaa, a Tunisian director competing in the short film category.
“The peak of violence we reached with the recent news of terrorism can only be dealt with through art and cinema.”
Tunisian artists expressed support of the festival continuing despite the attacks. Tunisian film-maker Nouri Bouzid said: “There is a resistance by continuing life. Culture is one of the ways to give life to people.”
Sabri Jerbi, a Tunisian actor, who was at a movie theatre when the news of the attack broke, emphasised the importance of culture in opposing violence and radicalism.
“We heard the news when we were standing in queues and that did not stop us from going to attend the film. It was an intense and emotional moment. Before the screening of the film, an hour after the attack, we all sang the national anthem to pay tribute to this country,” Jerbi said.
“The fact the festival did not stop is a statement to the terrorists. That is a blow to them. Cinema and art are stronger than terrorism.”
The messages of support also came from foreign guests of the festival. Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, host of the closing ceremonies, saluted the Tunisian people for attending screenings in great numbers following the attacks.
“I always believe that celebrating creativity and human passion and the power to create art is the best way to oppose those terrorist attacks. It was impressive that the festival continued and did not shut down, ” he said.