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Lost Continent: Cinema of Tunisia

by The Africa Film Project
Tunisia is the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. The south of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and 1,300 km of coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then as the Africa Province which was known as the “bread basket” of the Roman Empire. Later, Tunisia was occupied by Vandals during the 5th century AD, Byzantines in the 6th century, and Arabs in the 8th century. Under the Ottoman Empire, Tunisia was known as “Regency of Tunis”. It passed under French protectorate… Read more

Tunisia is the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. The south of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and 1,300 km of coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then as the Africa Province which was known as the “bread basket” of the Roman Empire. Later, Tunisia was occupied by Vandals during the 5th century AD, Byzantines in the 6th century, and Arabs in the 8th century. Under the Ottoman Empire, Tunisia was known as “Regency of Tunis”. It passed under French protectorate in 1881. After obtaining independence in 1956, the country took the official name of the “Kingdom of Tunisia” at the end of the reign of Lamine Bey and the Husainid Dynasty. With the proclamation of the Tunisian republic on July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president and led the modernization of the country.

It is debatable whether or not one can truly make reference to a Tunisian cinema industry. Although the majority of films produced in the country are indisputably co-productions, Tunisia is striving to create a cinema of it’s own. However due to the scarcity of funding from state institutions , the evolution is slow and uncertain. Moreover Tunisian cinema seems to be a stranger in it’s own country. The unpopularity of local productions means the already sparse cinemas prefer to screen more lucrative international features. Festivals which are currently flourishing at a steady rate offer the only chance for a film to break through.

Carthage Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the region. Since it’s creation in 1966, it has always been the place to be, revealing and promoting all of the great names of African and Arab cinema. Images, sounds, colors, black and white, passionate and sometimes heated discussions about a film, stars and budding talents, the Arab world and the African continent uniting for sharing and understanding, and the rest of the world joining in this great celebration of cinema. We will be able to experience stories through films from around the world. It will give us a chance to reflect on the necessary changes brought on by the surge of new technology in the audiovisual field. It will celebrate cinema, reflection, brotherhood and gathering together.

Here is a look at ten film directors who have helped to shape and form Tunisia’s film history.

1.Abdellatif Ben Ammar
Abdellatif Ben Ammar, born 25 April 1943 in Tunis , is one of Tunisia’s first major film makers. After engaging in graduate mathematics , he turned to filmmaking and graduated in shooting at the Institute for Advanced Film Studies (IDHEC) of Paris. He has worked with film makers such as Roberto Rossellini, George Cukor, and Claude Chabrol. Upon his return to Tunisia, he was hired by the SATPEC as a camera operator and began making short films. In 1969 , he directed his first feature film , A simple Story. He also founded a company with Abdellatif Layouni called, Latif Productions, which allowed him to make documentaries, dramas and commercials. He also founded a society of post-production called Ben Duran. In 2002 he directed Le Chant de Noria about a woman who leaves her abusive husband and finds solace with her first love.

Le chant de la Noria, 2002
Aziza, 1980
A Simple Story, 1970

2.Ridha Behi
Ridha Behi is a quietly spoken, middle-aged Tunisian film-maker. He was born in 1947 and studied at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris. In 1977 Behi directed his first feature film Soleil Des Hyenes about a German company which builds a resort on the beach of a traditional Tunisian fishing village, all the men leave their boats for construction jobs. For a while, they are more prosperous than before, but soon the jobs end, and they have neither their old boats nor any real place in the new, modernized town. His most recent feature, The Magic Box 2002, was inspired by his childhood as a movie lover, growing up in a Muslim country. His strict religious father deplored his passion for cinema, but the young Behi frequently played truant from school to sneak off to screenings of old Federico Fellini, Marcel Carné and Marlon Brando movies.

Citizen Brando, 2010 (in production)
The Magic Box, 2002
Les hirondelles ne meurent pas à Jerusalem, 1994
Champagne amer, 1986
Les anges, 1984
The Hyena’s Sun, 1976
Seuils interdits, 1972
La femme statue, 1967

3.Moufida Tlatli
Tlatli was raised in Tunisia in a tradition-oriented family. It was in high school, thanks to her philosophy teacher, who ran a film club, that she developed a taste for the cinema. After graduating from the IDHEC film school in Paris in 1968, in the editing department, she went back to live in Tunisia in 1972. Her name appears on the credits of some of the most important Arab film from 1970 to 1990. She directed her first featured-film The Silences of the Palace in 1994. The film was acclaimed critically and won several awards : Cannes Film Festival’s Golden Camera, the Golden Tanit of Carthage, British Film Institute Awards’ Sutherland Trophy, Toronto Film Festival’s International Critics’ Award and Istanbul International Film Festival’s Golden Tulip. Her second film, The Season of Men, was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.

Nadia et Sarra, 2004
The Season of Men, 2000
Samt el qusur, (Silences of the Palace), 1994

4.Nacer Khemir
Born in the village of Korba, near Tunis, in 1948, Nacer Khemir, or, as he insists on being called in Arabic print, Mohamed Al-Nasir Al-Khumeir — poet, sculptor, story-teller, better known as award-winning filmmaker — is the auteur of Le collier perdu de la colombe (The Lost Dove’s Necklace, 1990), in which the bygone glory of the Arabs takes the form of a book, one partially burned page of which propels the young protagonist forward on a journey that turns out to be more inward than outward. Yet, though he finds a complete copy of the Andalusian writer Ibn Hazm’s famous tract on love, The Dove’s Necklace, only to lose it, this calligrapher’s apprentice does transcend the state of moral disintegration and impending civil war with which he is surrounded, broaching a magic world not only of imagination but, crucially, of memory. Like many intellectuals of the Arab West, the French-educated, Paris-based Khemir has an equivocal relationship with his cultural identity. In a sense, indeed, he is a committed Arabist who obsessively collects and peruses the literary canon — the legacy of better times, clearer thinking and greater civilisation. At the same time, impatient with the ephemeral antics of present-day cultural spheres and deeply resentful of their futile politicisation, he is a self-professed Francophone, French being the language in which he does most of his writing and thinking, and through which he reaches out to audiences throughout the world.

Bab’Aziz – The Prince That Contemplated His Soul, 2005
Le collier perdu de la colombe, 1991
El-haimoune, (Wanderers of the Desert), 1986

5.Nouri Bouzid
Born in Sfax, Tunisia in 1945 Bouzid began filmmaking studies in 1968 at Institut National des Arts du Spectacle et Techniques de Diffusion (INSAS) in Brussels. He graduated in 1972 with a short film, Duel, 1972. Returning to Tunisia he worked, from 1972 to 1973 in Tunisian television but was then arrested and jailed for over five years (1973-79) for his involvement with the radical Groupe d’Etude et d’Action Socialiste Tunisian (GEAST). After his release he worked as an assistant director on several foreign films shooting in Tunisia, including Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981, and The Key to Rebecca, 1985 (TV). He also assisted on many Tunisian features as well as working on screenplay adoptions and dialogue for several important Tunisian films in the 90s such as Halfawin ’Usfur Stah, 1990 by ‘Ferid Boughedir’. He made his directorial debut in 1986 with Rih essed, 1986, which won the top prize at the carthage film festival. This film along with his subsequent features, tackled sensitive issues usually absent from Arab films and established Bouzid as a significant figure in Maghreb cinema.

Making of, le dernier film, 2006
Clay Dolls, 2002
Bent familia, 1997
The Gulf War… What Next?, 1993
Bezness, 1992
Golden Horseshoes, 1989
Rih essed, 1986

6.Ferid Boughedir
Ferid Boughedir (فريد بوغدير), born in 1944 in Hammam Lif , is a leading Tunisian director. His first feature film, Halfaouine is an intimate childhood portrait of a twelve-year old boy who takes advantage of the erotic opportunities his childhood status gives him to ogle women in his mother’s bathhouse, and to spy on the attractive woman next door, who is conducting a clandestine affair with a tradesman whom he is friends with. He is also a respected journalist and has written for the magazine Jeune Afrique since 1971 and is also a professor of cinema at the University of Tunis . He directed two feature-length documentaries shown in the official selection at Cannes Film Festival : Camera Africa ( 1983 ) and Camera Arabic ( 1987 ). His first work of fiction, Halfaouine the Child of the Terraces ( 1990 ) was crowned with several awards including the Golden Tanit at the Carthage film festival (JCC). He was a member of the official juries at Cannes ( 1991 ), Berlin ( 1997 ) and Venice ( 1999 ) and president of the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou ( 2001 ).

Villa Jasmin, 2008
A Summer in La Goulette, 1996
Asfour Stah, (Halfouine), 1990
Caméra arabe, 1987
Twenty Years of African Cinema, 1983

7.Mohamed Zran
Mohamed Zran (born 1959) is a Tunisian film director and screenwriter. His film Le casseur de pierres was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.Mohamed Zran (محمد الزرن), born 23 August 1959 at Zarzis , is a screenwriter , director and actor Tunisia. He holds a graduate degree at the Graduate School Film Free Film Studies Paris. He also worked as assistant director of Cyril Collard . Subsequently, he starred in a film by Mohamed Algiers the White ( 1986 ). He directed his first short film Comma in 1987 and then wrote and directed the film The Stone crusher in 1989 , Ya Nabil in 1993 , Essaïda in 1996 , The Prince in 2004 and Live Here in 2009

Being Here, 2009
Le prince, 2004
Le chant du millénaire, 2002
Essaïda, 1996
Ya nabil, 1993
Le casseur de pierres, 1989
Virgule, 1987

8.Raja Amari
After dipping her toe in the world of cinema with a short film, the young Tunisian director, Raja Amari, born in 1971, made her debut feature length film with a story of passion and emancipation. Satin Rouge is a French-Tunisian co-production and it won the Best Film prize at the Turin Festival and the New Director’s Showcase Award at the Seattle International Film Festival. The film garnered many positive reviews from around the world as well as an excellent reception from the public.

Anonymes, 2009
Seekers of Oblivion, 2004
Red Satin, 2002
One Evening in July, 2001
Avril, 1998

9.Karin Albou
As a child, Karin Albou was always encouraged to be an artist : She did dance, singing … After high school, Karin studied for two years different fields such as literature, English, dance, drama class, without really knowing what to choose. Then she enrolled in a film school in Paris in order to become a screenwriter and discovered during her studies that she wanted above and beyond all to be a director. She made her first short film right after school, which confirmed her vocation. Then she spent a few years working on a documentary about Tunisia, where she lived. There, she also made her second short film Aid el kebir a love story that takes place in Algeria, her family’s country. Little Jerusalem, her first feature, won the price of best screenplay in 2006 Cannes film festival (Critic’s week section), and was twice nominated for the French Academy « Cesar » The Wedding Song, was her second feature won several prizes in French festivals and abroad.

Corps de dame, 2009
The Wedding Song, 2008
Little Jerusalem, 2005
L’innocente, 2001
Aïd El Kebir, 1999

10.Abdellatif Kechiche
Abdellatif Kechiche (Arabic: عبد اللطيف كشيش‎), born December 7, 1960 in Tunis, Tunisia is an actor, movie director and screenwriter. He made his directorial debut in 2000 with La Faute à Voltaire (Blame it on Voltaire), aka Poetical Refugee, which he also wrote. He also directed L’Esquive, which won a César Award for Best Film and Best Director. His last film La Graine et le Mulet was shown at the 64th Mostra del Cinema at Venezia for which he was awarded the Special Jury Prize, the FIPRESCI Prize, such as later the Louis Delluc Prize and others César Awards for Best Film and Best Director. As an actor, his introduction to most English-speaking audiences was starring as Ashade the taxi driver in the 2005 psychological thriller “Sorry, Haters”, an “official selection” in both the Toronto and American Film Institute’s film festivals.

Black Venus, 2010
Couscous, 2007
Games of Love and Chance, 2003
Blame It on Voltaire 2000

OTHER SIGNIFICANT TUNISIAN FILMS
Khamsa, Karim Dridi, 2008
Thirty, Fadhel Jazirin, 2008
Cinecitta, Brahim Letaief, 2008
Fatma, Khaled Ghorbal, 2001
Keltoum’s Daughter, Mehdi Charef, 2001

A Thousand and One Voices, Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, 2001
The Wind Dance, Taieb Louhichi, 2004
A Man’s Word, Moez Kamoun, 2004
La Villa, Mohamed Mahfoudh, 2003

Flower of Oblivion, Selma Baccar, 2006
Vhs Kahloucha, Nejib Belkadhi, 2006
Honey and Ashes, Nadia Fares, 1996
Sarab, Abdelhafidh Bouassida, 1982

FOREIGN FILMS SET OR FILMED IN TUNISIA
Star Wars, George Lucas, 1977, USA
Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Speilburg, 1981, USA
Life of Brian, Terry Jones, 1979, United Kingdom
English Patient, Anthony Minghella, 1996, United Kingdom

Baaria, Giuseppe Tornatore, 2009, Italy
Pirates, Roman Polanski, 1986, France
Cabiria, Giovanni Pastrone, 1914, Italy
Viva La Muerte, Fernando Arrabal, 1971, Spain

FILMS SUBMITTED TO MUBI DATABASE
Bent Familia, Nouri Bouzid, Tunisia, 1997
Bezness, Nouri Bouzid, 1992, Tunisia, France, Germany
Le Chant De Noria, Abdellatif Ben Ammar, Tunisia, France, 2002
Clay Dolls, Nouri Bouzid, Tunisia, France, Morocco, 2002
Le Collier Perdu De La Colombe, Nacer Khemir, Tunisia, France, Italy, 1991
Fatma, Khaled Ghorbal, Tunisia, France, 2002
Flower of Oblivion, Selma Baccar, Tunisia, 2006
Khamsa, Karim Dridi, France, 2008
Making Of, Le Dernier Film, Nouri Bouzid, Tunisia, 2006
Man of Ashes, Nouri Bouzid, Tunisia, 1986
Nadia et Serra, Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia, France, 2004
Le Prince, Mohamed Zran, Tunisia, France, 2004
Le Saison de Hommes, Moufida Tlatli, Tunisia, France, 2000
Satin Rouge, Raja Amari, Tunisia, France, 2003
A Summer In La Goulette, Ferid Boughedir, Tunisia, France, Belgium, 1996,
Twenty Years of African Cinema, Ferid Boughedir, Tunisia, France, 1983
Wedding Song, Karin Albou, Tunisia, France, 2008,

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