Carthage Film Festival: a breath of fresh air in trying times

Tunisia's prestigious industry event enjoys another successful year, helping spread a love of culture across the country

The cast of the Tunisian film, 'Under the Fig Trees', directed by Erige Sehiri, receive the Tanit d’Argent award during the closing ceremony of Carthage Film Festival. AFP
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Another week of movie magic, street art and music has come to an end following the 33rd edition of the International Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia.

Titled “Hel Thneya”, which means “Open the Path” in Tunisian dialect, the festival once again cemented its status as a major cultural attraction for visitors of all ages, who flocked to cinemas and filled the streets en masse.

The festival, one of the eldest and most prestigious in the Mena region, ended on Sunday.

As is tradition, the capital Tunis was transformed into an open celebration of not only cinema but all forms of arts, with independent young painters getting the chance to show their artworks to the public for the first time and musicians performing every evening to audiences in the middle of Avenue Habib Bourguiba. For many, it was an opportunity to watch films that they don’t usually have the means or the opportunity to see.

Speaking outside the Theatre de Region Cinema, Downtown Tunis, Amina told The National she had been waiting for the festival to introduce her two children to the world of the cinema.

“As a family, we always discuss films together but we never find the time nor age-appropriate films to watch. This is a great opportunity to let them discover the big screen,” Amina said.

Amina’s daughter Ritej, who is in the sixth grade, was grinning with happiness as she prepared to enter the cinema hall. “I’m excited, I’m sure I’m going to enjoy this and tell my friends about it,” Ritej said.

Amina said that she often encourages her children to value the arts, with Ritej currently rehearsing for a school play, and she wishes there were more events like it in Tunisia.

This year’s International festival was an opportunity to revive the city. According to organisers, the festival aimed to showcase both new cinema productions and also timeless films that the younger generations needed to be introduced to.

This year, 72 countries participated with Saudi Arabia being the guest of honour and special emphasis placed on Palestinian and Spanish Cinema — a choice that organisers said highlighted the intersection between north and south, placing migration under an artistic lens.

The festival also paid tribute to Arab filmmakers, both living and dead, namely the Moroccan director Mohamed Abderrahmen Tazi and Egyptian director Daoud Abdel Sayed, as well as the late Algerian director Yamina Chouikh and late Tunisian director Kalthoum Bornaz.

“Through this 33rd edition, we continued to foster cultural decentralisation by bringing new sections to the festival and programming screenings in different parts of the country,” journalist and cinema critic Yosra Chikhaoui told The National.

“This year marks the first edition of JCC for kids. We are bringing more screenings as part of our “street cinema” section as well as continuing the special screenings for prisoners and members of the Tunisian army inside military bases,” Chikhaoui, who is a member of the festival's media committee, added.

JCC in Prisons, now in its eighth year,is the fruit of a partnership between the Tunisian Ministries of Culture and Justice and the International Organisation Against Torture. This year, 12 films were showcased in three prison facilities, while juvenile detainees were transferred to Tunis for a special showcase in a cinema.

According to Ridha Behi, general director of this year’s festival, film screenings in prisons serve as a reminder of the right all people have to access and experience culture.

Awards, meanwhile, highlighted the multitude and variety on show, with a focus on filmmakers whose work depicts the struggles of their respective societies.

The Tanit d’Or award for best feature film was given to Tug of War, directed by Amil Shivji — marking the first time a film from Tanzania has won the award. Meanwhile, the Tanit d’Argent and Tanit de Bronze were respectively awarded to the films Under the Fig Trees by Erige Sehiri from Tunisia and Sharaf by Samir Nasr from Egypt.

Updated: November 08, 2022, 1:52 PM