Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage #24,16.- 24. nov. 2012, report by Christl Grunwald-Merz
with additional remarks by Leila Rokbani (Tunisia)
It was certainly this festival - among all those in which I could take part until now - which excited me most and which definitely broadened my narrow (western) look on the Arab and African world. 40 years ago I had finished a master's thesis on "Soviet Theories and Strategies on Social Change in the Third World" - which was as barren as it sounds. Now in 2012, at the first JCC after the yasmin revolution, I asked myself about the "reality" - behind books, films and faces. The festival gathered people from countries who had followed the Tunisians - the "Arab Spring". But it was also a festival which brought together film makers from countries where revolutions - or evolutions - are still to come or where the revolutionary achievements have already been threatened by traditional "heritages" or by other (worldwide) trends... What I saw and heard in Tunis was a portrait of the - more or less - present situation. What was beyond it - I could not grasp it, except what I saw by walking the streets, observing the people from cafés. A special approach to the culture of Tunesia and it's partner countries were the discussions organized by the FTCC (Tunesian Federation of Film Clubs) which took place every morning. It helped to find out what the directors wanted to say "directly" - but could not do so, the ways they choose to tell it nevertheless...I was listening - understanding the French parts, stuck fast when the passionate debates allowed no interruptions for a translation, it gave me a unique chance to listen, guess and watch the scenery, getting a faint idea of the country's culture of rhetoric.
We saw many different approaches from different countries to the big theme "revolution". We saw films which seemend too awkward or too trendy, but their "making of" was justified by the special audience in their country, by the lack of money (low or no budget) and by other criteria which are out of our perception as Europeans. To give you some examples: "Burn It up Djassa" by Lonesome Solo (Ivory Coast 2012) had a way of telling it's sad story which was certainly not that which fascinates an artistic film festival audience - but it was "good" for the young audience at home; other examples were Yahya Alabdallah's "The Last Friday" (Jordan, 2011) showing a very slow way through an important phase in a person's life - here was MY problem that I did not get the decisive information from the subtitles; or take Ibrahima Tourés "Spidewebs" (Mali 2011) which showed not only torture but also an almost hagiographic image of a girl being the examplary victim of patriarchy, cruelty and corruption in the rural districts of a country which is now in danger. Were we allowed to judge these films according to our "western" criteria? Beside the film makers I should give a big applause to the local audience which followed the films very intensely.
Some remarks to the organizers of the festival: next time there should be an access to the cinema halls which prevents you from being suffocated and it should be strictly forbidden to use a mobile; the audience should be informed that a film will be shown on dvd - in probably worse quality than the original.
The "fate" of our jury seemed in the beginning hopeless: kind people with a JCC signboard picked me up the airport although I was not on the "list". I was sent downtown to the gigantic "Africa"-Hotel - the center of the organizers. After waiting about an hour - a long time for a Central European - I tried my chance to check the situation on my own. We found out that the e-mail-correspondence had, why ever, disappeared in SPAM - our whole jury was non-existent. Thanks to the very very friendly Haifa Jmour (coordination générale) things were arranged, I got a hotel room and a badge (the Tunesian members did not get one), we finally - a few hours before the opening session - got in contact with our "président". He had no idea of his role and, being a university teacher, he did not have the possiblity to prepare for enough time to watch all the films, but he "organized" a ticket for us to see the opening ceremony - for which I did not have a ticket. Our "third man" had been anounced from Hungary, we waited for him until the third day, he did not show up. In the meantime we had tried on our own to fill the gap and found a very friendly competent member of the FTCC.
The FTCC did not only arrange the discussions but had also a wide net of volunteers. The organization is supposed to prepare a world congress of the FICC next year from April 1st to 7 th in Hammamet which should mainly concentrate on panafrican and panarabian questions. Tunisia is prepared to take a leading role. By many film makers the organization of film clubs in the Maghreb region was praised for its role for preparing them for their carrer as well as for their role in "educating" the cinéphils in media competence.
After we had become a "working group" - around the 4th day - we finally (at the 7th day) found out on which genre we had to concentrate: it was announced in the bulletin to be "the best film from a cinephil's viewpoint on the present situation of Arab and African societies before, during and after a revolution", the films had to be chosen from the category "compétition internationale longs métrages fiction". By broadening the notion "revolution" through "myths and dreams of revolutions" we found a label to justify our selection. We have chosen three films from three countries which have in common to talk about a revolution by making a film about an earlier time - leaving it open if a revolution to come would change things.
"Lamma Shostek" - which won our DON QUIJOTTE - is placed in the year 1967. The revolution is a dream of the people living apathically in a refugee camp (some of them since 1948) as well as for the young people in a training center for freedom fighters. An autistic boy (idiot savant) with special mathematical gifts is trying to find a way back home and to get in contact with his father who is missed. He leads us through the plot and to the different places. In the end he walks away towards a fence marking the frontier, his mother and the freedom fighters behind him - his mother turns her back to the young guys and joins her son: freeze cut. We thought that the excellent director Annemaria Jacir used a "clin d'oeil" to tell her view on a revolution this way...
We gave "special mentions" to the films „Parfums d'Alger“ (from Algeria) and to "The Professor" (from Tunisia). Both films tell their stories in the past although the problems are those of the present.
The Algerian photographer Karima is at the height of her professional carrer when she gets a phone call from home: her mother asking her to return after 20 years to do something for her brother who is in difficulties. She comes back in a country which is under the attacks of islamists - and finds out that her brother is one of them, a murderer, waiting for his execution in the prison "La forteresse" in the south of the country. He refuses to sign an official paper of repent. The blame falls on their father who had been fighting the French. Karima had been fighting her authoritarian father and left the country after she found out the he had violated the daughter of a fighter in the FLN who had not survived, he had raised her with his children. Karima's brother married her to save her from shame. After she got killed Karima takes her baby on her belly - it looks at the audience - to a demonstration to prevent an islamic revolution, she takes photographs again: symbolically she has re-integrated Algerie and faces its problems with her professional knowledge.
The Tunisian Film "Le Professeur" tells also the story of somebody gaining finally conscience of what is really going on in his country and draws the consequences. Being a reliable member of the ruling party (in 1977!) he is corrupted by privileges until he finds out the truth. He is sent to the desert - a humiliating exile which he takes with dignity.
Our official arguments in the name of our Jury: Jalel Rouissi (president) and Leila Rokbani (both from Tunisia, TFCC), Christl Grunwald-Merz (Germany, BJF)
The "DON QUIJOTTE" goes to Annemarie Jacir from Palestine for her film "Lamma shoftek" (Quand je t'ai vu; When I saw you) 2012:
French original version:
Dans une attente interminable dans les camps de réfugiés des années 48 et 67 en Jordanie, un jeune palestinien de 11 ans par sa détermination entraine les adultes à ignorer les processus diplomatiques et militaires à retrouver son père et sa terre patrie. Le fil conducteur et les plans séquences donnent à cette oeuvre une valeur universelle.
Tired of endlessly waiting in a refugee camp in 1967 - they exist since 1948 - an 11 year old impatient Palestinian boy being autistic, an "idiot savant", decides to overcome diplomatic and military processes to find his father and to regain his homeland. The film gets its universal importance from the way it tells the "plot" with cinematographic mastership.
Given the all dominant theme of this festival - REVOLUTION - we gave two SPECIAL MENTIONS ex aequo:
The first goes to Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud from Tunisia for "Le professeur" 2012
French original version:
Dans un délire amoureux un professeur de droit se laisse entrainer dans un tourbillon de confusion entre son engagement envers le pouvoir et ses principes de militant des droits de l' homme. Sans trop gener le spectateur le réalisateur nous permet de voir les raisons des revendication du Bassin Minier étouffées en 1977 et qui continuent depuis....
A passionate love affair brings a law professor in a confusing turmoil between his duties towards the ruling party and his principles as a militant for human rights. Without going too deep into details the director shows why the demands of the phosphat miners were suppressed in 1977 and are still suppressed until now...
The second goes to Rachid Benhadj for "Parfums d'Alger" 2012
French original version:
Le symbole de la mère, de la soeur et de la femme est définit par le réalisateur dans la terre patrie que l'héroine a complètement refoulé juisqu'au déclenchement de la vérité qu'elle voulait ignorer, d'un pays sanglant. La photographie lui a permis de se réconcilier avec son passé et faire face aux exigences immédiates de ce pays qu'elle a gardée au fond d'elle.
The director defines the symbols of mother, sister and woman with the heroine's homeland - a country she, Karima, has completely suppressed. She wanted to ignore it but has to face it as a bleeding land. Photography allows her to make peace with her past and live up to the urgent challenges of a country which has been alive at the bottom of her soul.
We think all these films - only three out of the 12 we saw - will by their open endings further discussions - either on the situation in the country or elsewhere, universally. The problem of revolutions will stay with us - wether they are lived successfully or are suppressed.
Christl Grunwald-Merz (Germany)
Additional remarks by Leila Rokbani (Tunisia):
First of all I want to say that it was a pleasure for me to be part of the FICC Jury Prize Don Quixote film with my colleagues. We set criteria of judgment from the beginning just to give an opinion by and after watching movies, as already noted in Christl's report. l expect that we could meet the constraint limiting our choice to the criteria and the category of the films in competition - although we had found out that the other categories (international short fiction and documentaries or perspectives long et court métrages) would have had the opportunity to be awarded. Because we had no course of action of the FICC, we were also forced to follow the advice required by the organizers of the JCC, for our love of cinema and principles within the film club, we have done our best A Ranking fair offer.
For JCC 2012, parallel pricing was very successful and will be registered for the next session, unfortunately I was taken aback since I was logistically not intended from the outset to the jury. The Don Quichotte was not well presented to the Tunisian public, we did not have the time to make it known through the media. A very special session - we all had a lot of courage to make it succeed.
We enjoyed during the trophy ceremony that the actress in the lead role of the film "LAMA SHOUFTK" was present. By now I hope the Don Quixote will have arrived. LONG LIVE THE CINEMA - WHICH HAS BROUGHT US TOGETHER!.