With stars of Arab and African cinema walking the red carpet and thousands of fans lining up outside the few remaining movie theatres in Tunis, the Carthage Film Festival kicked off its 28th edition.
The opening ceremony honoured the Palestinian cause by screening Rashid Masharawi’s “Writing on the Snow.” Other movies shown aimed to revive a festival tradition of celebrating the cinema of the southern parts of the world. This year’s edition celebrated the cinema of Algeria, Argentina and South Africa.
“In this edition, we have sought to reconcile the fundamentals of the festival and the spirit and requirements of our times. This is an African and Arab festival by excellence so all the competitions are dedicated to Arab and African films and we have tried to gradually strike balance between African and Arab films with emphasis on Africa as a cornerstone,” festival Director Nejib Ayed said at the opening ceremony November 4.
“The festival is dedicated for the cinema of the south and particularly for three continents: Africa, Asia and Latin America,” he said.
The Carthage Film Festival, which closed November 11, attracted thousands of cinema critics and enthusiasts who were treated to 180 films. Fifty-one, representing 27 countries, took part in the official competition. The festival featured 19 international premieres, 27 African ones and 23 Arab films.
“This edition has featured a record number of 37 long features, 18 of which are fiction features, and 41 short films. This is a first as this is something new in this edition,” Ayed pointed out at a news conference.
“Tunisia is alive and buzzing with life and production and is capable of producing good quality,” he said.
This year’s edition featured films that explored social and political themes ranging from immigration to unemployment to civil war.
Ayed pointed out that the Carthage Film Festival celebrates film-makers.
“In a nutshell, the stars of the festival are the film-makers. There are great actors and actresses who have talent but we don’t celebrate the cult of stars. The stars of this festival are the makers of the movies,” Ayed said.
Dating to 1966, the Carthage Film Festival is the oldest in Africa.
“We wanted to discard the empty rituals of festivals and all the bling-bling culture because the quality of the festival is measured by the level and quality of the films competing, the calibre of the guests and the dynamics it creates,” Ayed explained.
“The festival has an aspect of activism that must be celebrated. Most of the movies are revolutionary and thought-provoking. Most of these movies are also made by young generations who need to have a place in such festivals.”
Palestinian film director Raed Andoni, whose documentary “Fix ME” won the Golden Tanit for best documentary in 2010, competed this year in the documentary section with “Ghost Hunting.”
Andoni said the Carthage Film Festival is unique as its audience determines its success.
“When I think of the Carthage Film Festival, I immediately think of the audience who are unique and amazing,” he said. “When I go to the cinema, I see everyone and not only intellectuals and all generations. There are young students and the elderly, too.
“That is the imprint of the festival. The festival is a celebration of cinema because it raises the importance of cinema in the cultural scene. It is unique because it has a real dedicated audience. So it is more than the celebration. Many other festivals have only the celebration part but we cannot evolve without having cultural revolution that comes with the audience.”
Tunisian film-maker Insaf Arfa stressed the importance of the festival for aspiring film-makers.
“As a young film-maker, it is important for me to participate in one of the oldest and biggest festivals on both the Arab and African levels,” Arfa said. “This edition has a great number of Tunisian films and in the short film competition. Also, the fact that the Tunisian film directors competing in the short film section are all women gives a boost for all female film-makers.”
“Tunisian cinema is evolving and you can feel this year that there is a new breath and a new generation of Tunisian film-makers who are producing a different cinema than what we saw before. That is something to enjoy,” she added.
Tunisians who attended the screenings and debates said they left enriched by the experience.
“I think I fell in love with cinema in one of the past editions of the Carthage Film Festival. Ever since, I became a regular attendee of the festival,” Souleima, a student, said. “It is a week that brings life to the country and you meet people with whom you share the same passion.”
“I have been a follower for years now and just talking about the spirit of the festival brings me joy. People come here and wait for tickets and attend all the movie screening,” Nour El Houda Alhmadi said.
Roua Khlifi is a regular Travel and Culture contributor in Tunis.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.