Youthful energy at the heart of Carthage Film Festival’s success
TUNIS - Young people turned out in high numbers to attend the Carthage Film Festival, a week-long cinema event showcased around Tunis and with events across Tunisia.
Starting October 26, downtown Tunis was as lively as ever. The main boulevard, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, was bustling with visitors, young and old, in cafes and restaurants and waiting in front of cinemas to see films from up to 40 countries.
“It’s one of the most awaited festivals in the country,” said Yassine Brahem, 21, queuing in front of the Rio movie theatre. “It has a charm of its own and draws public from all over the country.”
The opening ceremony of the Carthage Film Festival (JCC), complete with a red-carpet event that drew prominent Tunisian celebrities and entertainers, added to the excitement. Many saw the event as a welcome break from the political drama that has swept the country following a contentious election cycle.
“Two reasons brought me here: First, I’m fed up with politics and the JCC, with its exclusive focus on cinema, gives young Tunisians, including myself, a rare respite from politics,” said Salima Laabidi, 19. “Second, the festival is an occasion to rediscover and explore African, Arab and Asian cinema, which opens our eyes on the world surrounding us and the different cultures and diverse backgrounds.”
While Laabidi seemed excited about the festival, one detail seemed to bother her.
“The ambience is good, the festival’s programme is fine but I still wonder why this edition was organised in the middle of a workweek. This creates a headache for students and employed people who find it increasingly hard to come and attend screenings. Personally, I had to skip my classes today,” she said.
Since its inception in 1966, the JCC has grown to become one of Tunisia’s most prominent cultural events, bringing in guests of all ages from all walks of life.
“The international Carthage Film Festival was blessed with something that other festivals are still eager to acquire and it’s the incredible public support,” said Tunisian film director and screenwriter Ferid Boughedir.
Another Tunisian director, Amine Lakhnech, whose short movie “True Story” was featured at the festival, said the JCC is where “Tunisian cinephiles learn about cinema.”
“They come and watch movies that open up their horizons,” Lakhnech said. “In the past, we did not have access to number of movies but the JCC gives us this opportunity. Among the best films I watched myself was the American movie ‘Redacted’ of Brian De Palma, which had its avant-premiere during the JCC in 2008.”
While the JCC’s main venues are in Tunis, the festival has had events across the country since 2017, including in Menzel Bourguiba, Kairouan, Monastir, Djerba, Sfax, Nabeul, Siliana and Kasserine. This year, the JCC expanded to host showings in Bizerte, Jendouba, Mahdia and Gafsa. Some films were screened in Tunisian prisons.
The festival’s broad reach and the availability of affordable tickets for thousands of moviegoers in the country reflect the JCC’s goal to be as accessible to the public as possible.
The events were made possible with the help of some 70 young volunteers who helped organise the festivities.
“Four days into the festival, all the screenings were almost fully booked as we are witnessing a large turnout from the public,” said Lamia Guiga, the JCC’s artistic director. “Once again, this year, the festival has shown that its biggest asset has been the public.”
Guiga also praised young artists for their contribution to the festival.
“In recent editions, we have noticed the increasing participation of young filmmakers, generally with their first work,” Guiga said.
“We have a new generation that is rising in the cinema industry and I believe we are harvesting the fruit of good training and education as well as production partnerships and the support provided by some countries, including financial assistance that has helped a number of filmmakers from Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon. Another is also the advent of new technologies that changed the film industry and helped young filmmakers with their projects.”
Women filmmakers featured prominently in this year’s edition for the first time, with 19 having their material screened during various events.
Among them was Saudi filmmaker Shahad Ameen, whose debut feature was shown at the festival. The film, “Scales,” is a feminist fable drawing on Arabic folklore that focuses on the life of a young woman who rebels against a dark tradition in her native fishing village.
In addition to film screenings, the JCC organised debates and meetings to recognise Tunisia’s Arab-African identity and promote South-South cooperation.
The JCC has created specific categories such as “Diaspora Cinema” and “Digital Carthage.” A “Focus” section had guest countries, including Lebanon (Arab World), Japan (Asia), Chile (Latin America) and Nigeria (Africa). In total, 170 films were screened at 22 cinemas over the course of the festival.
The JCC was established in 1966 by the late Tunisian filmmaker Taher Cheriaa with the support of the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, making it one of the oldest Arab and African film festivals still active.