Lights, Camera, Revolution: The Arab Spring Stars At Cannes
The revolt in the Arab world is featured in several participants at this year's film festival in France, as newfound freedom is celebrated in celluloid, if not yet incomplete in practice.
CANNES – For a moment this week, the Côte d'Azur became the latest flashpoint – at least in a cinematic sense – of the Arab world's ongoing tide of revolution.
On Wednesday, participants in this city's world famous film festival were treated to the world premiere of 18 Jours (18 Days), an Egyptian film shot during the North African country's recent uprising. Egypt is the guest country of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, with its "long film tradition that underwent a radical transformation," declared Thierry Frémaux, the Festival's chief representative. 18 Jours is a collection of 10 shorts made by filmmakers Yousry Nasrallah, Marwan Hamed, Sherif Arafa, Sherif El-Bendary, Kamla Abu Zekry, Mariam Abou Ouf, Mohamed Ali, Ahmed Alaa, Ahmad Abdallah and Khaled Marei.
Like any self-respecting revolution, the Cannes version came with its own blog – called "Pour un Maghreb du Cinéma" – which offers visitors a chance to sound off on 18 Jours and other revolutionary films being featured in this year's Festival. One of those is a documentary called Plus Jamais Peur (Never be afraid again), which Tunisian director Mourad Ben Cheikh shot after dictator Ben Ali fled that country on Jan. 14. A third related film is Ni maître ni Allah (Neither Master, nor Allah), directed by Nadia El-Fani. All three are feature-length movies that celebrate freedom after years of confinement.
Since Ben Ali's fall, there have been hard times in Tunisia, according to El-Fani. "Right after Ben Ali's fall," she said, "filmmakers and amateurs could shoot movies without ending up in jail. Today, if you try to record a video with your mobile phone, you get beaten up by the police." The director also revealed that she has been subjected to a violent campaign of insults and threats organized by a group of Muslim fundamentalists because on May 1, she dared to declare on television: "I don't believe in God."
It is as if Tunisia was reborn. Everything must be rebuilt. The film industry started off by settling the score with those who too often rubbed shoulders with Ben Ali, the deposed dictator. During a February movie convention, Ali Labidi, the president of the Association of Tunisian filmmakers (ACT), who was also Ben Ali's friend, was forced to resign.
Freedom of expression now exists in Tunisia, but the film-industry is struggling. "Since the Tunisian uprising, film directors have stopped shooting movies, technicians have lost their jobs and they don't receive any unemployment benefits. Some of them have even opened up vegetable stores," said Amine Chiboub, who is both a young film director and ACT's vice-president.
There may be a glimmer of hope. For the past five years, Tunisian filmmakers have requested the government create a National Center of Cinema, based on the French model from the National Center of Cinematography (NCC). There's reason to believe that could finally happen. "We are going to impose a tax on telecommunications services and on access providers in order to finance movies," said Chiboub.
There are no plans, however, to impose a tax on ticket sales. "It is impossible to do that, because there is no centralized ticket machine. We never know how much money a movie will generate," said Khaled Barsaoui, a Tunisian filmmaker, producer and president of a newly founded association of filmmakers called (ARF).
Tunisa and Egypt must prepare for the future. Young filmmakers such as Ayten Amin from Egypt and Walid Tayaa from Tunisia have been invited to the House of World Cinema at the Cannes Film Festival to learn how to "pitch" their feature film projects in the hope of attracting funding.
There is also the question of how those art-house films can be exported abroad. Pacha Pictures, an international sales agency specialized in Arab art-house films, was launched just in time for the Cannes Film Festival. Pacha Pictures has six films at Cannes including 18 Jours ("18 Days') and Microphone, directed by Ahmed Abdallah from Egypt. The movie has been very well received by the critics.
The founder of Pacha Pictures, Frédéric Sichler, thinks that Arab filmmakers have everything to gain by staying the way they are. "Arab filmmakers need to take back control of Arab cinema," he said. "Almodovar is an international filmmaker because he retains his own unique vision of Spanish life."
Read the original article in French.
photo - Jonathan Rashad