By Matthew Fullerton.
Tunisia is no stranger to film festivals. Well before its 2011 Jasmine Revolution, which toppled a 25-year old authoritarian regime that had stifled freedom of expression, film festivals were not uncommon in the North African country of 11.5 million. The JCC (Journées cinématographiques de Carthage), for instance, was conceived in 1966 by legendary film critic Tahar Cheriâa with the purpose of uniting Arab and African cinema and is the oldest festival of its kind in Africa and the Arab world. Film festivals, however, were not always confined to the capital and its suburbs in the decades before the revolution: roughly a hundred kilometres east of Tunis, there is Fifak (Festival International du Film Amateur de Kélibia), a festival that actually has a history slightly longer than the JCC’s, and nearly three hours south of Kélibia, in the resort town of Sousse, there is Fifej (founded 1991), a biennial festival dedicated to films for children and youth.
With the new freedoms after the Revolution and subsequent diversification in creativity and cultural initiatives, several more unique festivals have popped up in Tunisia, including Manarat, a week-long summer film festival that screens movies from the Mediterranean world on select beaches around the country. Panorama International Short Film Festival, formerly Festival Panorama Ciné Court (PCC), is another relatively new, specialized, festival. In what follows, the founder and director of Panorama International Short Film Festival, 32-year-old Kamel Aouij, speaks about the origins and philosophy of the festival, as well as what’s to be expected during the upcoming fifth edition, which will be held from February 4th to the 6th at Tunis’ Salle Tahar Cheriâa.
(This interview was conducted by email on January 25th, 2020, and was translated by the writer.)
Can you tell us about yourself and your role with Panorama International Short Film Festival?
In 2013, I graduated from Tunis’ School of Art and Design, with a specialization in film. I directed a two-part film called Facebook, which tackles the subject of betrayal on social media. The first part came out in 2010, while the second was released in 2015 and starred the Tunisian actress and dancer Kaouther Belhaj. Having my second film screened at the third edition of the Panorama International Short Film Festival was a successful moment for me, as the film’s subject touched everyone.
In addition to my film work, I have experience as a radio and television host and in journalism. My role with the Panorama International Short Film Festival is director and founder. This year, I gave the festival an English name in order to attract more interest.
What motivated you to create this festival?
What motivated me was the fact that there were no festivals in Tunisia specializing in short films. Panorama International Short Film Festival is the first film festival in Tunisia dedicated to short films.
Can you tell us about the history and philosophy of Panorama International Short Film Festival?
In October 2016, I attended a play at Carmen, a cultural centre in Tunis, and I got to know the space’s director, Madame Kaouther Dhaoui. I suggested to her that we host a festival dedicated to short films there. She liked the idea and encouraged me. From there, I sought out short films, and December 2016 saw the birth of the festival. The festival promotes the integration of young talents in the areas of directing and acting.
What criteria do you use when choosing films for your festival?
We choose films based on their theme’s originality and their objectives. We consider films from all over the world, so the festival is not exclusive to films from Arab countries.
What’s in store for the upcoming fifth edition of the Panorama International Short Film Festival?
In the fifth edition, we are going to present fictional films, short documentaries and animated films. For the first time, the festival will be held at Cité de la culture on Tunis’ Avenue Mohamed 5. Many interesting films will be screened and will certainly impress audiences and the jury. Among them, a film by the young filmmaker Malek Majdoub, who directed Cain in 2019, and the animated film Sun from Mohamed Taher Shawki Boukef.
Legendary Tunisian actress Fatma Ben Saidane will be a jury member for the fifth edition. Do you often attract big stars of Arab and world cinema to your festival?
Yes, we do, primarily for encouragement and inspiration, and for both positive and objective criticism.
What moment of your festival are you most proud of?
I am happy with each edition of the festival, and I always feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when we see Tunisian and foreign directors, as well as Tunisian and foreign media, express interest in the festival and its successes.
The fifth edition of the Panorama International Short Film Festival will be held from February 4th to the 6th in Salle Tahar Cheriâa, Cité de la culture, Avenue Mohamed 5, Tunis, from 3:00 pm onwards. Thanks to Cinémathèque Tunisienne and Association Apaht, as well as the festival’s partners.
Matthew Fullerton is an educator and part-time academic (Dalhousie University) in Atlantic Canada. He researches and writes about the cinemas of Japan and Tunisia, two countries in which he used to live, work and study.