Boosting Arab cinema. Interview with Khalil Benkiriane and Afef Ben Mahmoud

"Artists will never allow themselves to be brushed aside"

Grant Project Activities, Tunisia

At the first training session of the project "Access to markets in the digital era" in Tunis, Euromed Audiovisual spoke to Afef Ben Mahmoud, Tunisian actress and director, and Khalil Benkiriane, Moroccan filmmaker and Film Financing Grants Manager at the Doha Film Institute (DFI). They spoke of revolution, inherited talent, and ways to boost Arab cinema, notably through local awards for editors and directors of photography, not only for directors and actors.


Afef Ben Mahmoud: I have come back to Tunisia for the shooting of Ibrahim Letaief’s film Affreux Cupide et stupide [lit. “Hideous, stupid Cupid”]. I am playing the main female character.

Khalil Benkiriane: I am looking after the Doha Film Institute’s fund and am here in Tunis as part of Euromed Audiovisual's training project ACCESS, where I have come to help and to participate by reading the projects, and to speak about our fund and how they can benefit from it.

How do you see the future of film in Tunisia, now that there has been a change?

Afef Ben Mahmoud: I’m a bit apprehensive. The film is very interesting. It’s a comedy, but with a lot of criticism, of course. We don’t know what Tunisia’s future will be, or how things will evolve, but I think that the film can be very important, very interesting, and we will see. We criticise the Salafists, the Islamists, and we will see how people react. I like taking a risk!

Khalil, do you think revolution will happen in Morocco?

Khalil Benkiriane: In Morocco, they call it a “soft revolution” in which people go out and express themselves and people react. I think this is how you can talk about revolution in Morocco. Whether through this dialogue something will happen, I am not sure. We have too many suprises with some of our rulers. We will see.

Will Tunisian film find a place for itself in international cinema in the coming years, now that censorship has been lifted a little?

Afef Ben Mahmoud: I think that Tunisian film has always had its place, because Tunisia is a tiny country but with many beautiful things. Both artistically and politically, it is a little delicate at the momet, but it’s only the beginning. The revolution has only just started. We will see the future, but what I know and can say is that Tunisian artists will never allow themselves to be brushed aside, and we will continue to fight. So yes, I think that Tunisian films and Tunisian cinema are in a good place.

Khalil, as an expert, what would be the solutions to push Arab cinema forward a little internationally?

Khalil Benkiriane: I think that in Arab cinema, today, as yesterday, there are enough directors. What we need is everything that makes up the industry. We need lawyers familiar with entertainment laws, entertainement lawyers, to help us package our films for international co-production film markets to have more means to make films. We need schools to train technicians, editors. We need to start rewarding certain aspects of film that, at the moment, we don’t in our festivals. It’s great to reward directors and actors, but you also need to give awards for best editor, best director of photography, to a cameraman, for sound - all these aspects that revolve around image and that image cannot do without, and to encourage more youth to study not only directing and acting, but something else that will allow a real, sustainable industry to develop.

I know you have a daughter. For you, could she have a career in cinema, in the audiovisual sector?

Khalil Benkiriane: Our daughter is two years old and she already makes her own cinema. She is learning to observe and knows when to react, when to pull a face when she should do the opposite to get what she wants. I don’t know if it’s the influence of her mother, although she hasn’t seen her mother’s films yet, but I know that Lilya will be at many events. As soon as she can sit on a chair and communicate, she will be with us in a cinema and at events like this one. So will she end up being in the sector? We will see. All we can do is expose her, and it will be up to her to choose and decide.

Afef Ben Mahmoud: I think she’s a natural little comedian because she acts incredibly well, even at the age of two. Already when she was very small, she had a quality. She observes you, and when she speaks to you, she looks you straight in the eye, and she has a eyes that speak. As Khalil says, she has already been with us to quite a few festivals, and she will choose if she wants to continue, if she wants to be artist, if she wants to follow this career, or do something else.


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