7 Lives: nostalgia for the Ben Ali days called into question

The documentary has resonated with audiences in Tunis, Paris and Beirut


7 Lives: nostalgia for the Ben Ali days called into question

“My barber has a portrait of Ben Ali hanging in his shop,” Tunisian filmmaker Amine Boufaied told journalist Lilia Blaise in 2013. And the idea for the documentary 7 Lives was born. 

The "7" refers to November 7, 1987, when a coup d’état brought former dictator Ben Ali to power in Tunisia.

“We noticed that this phenomenon was starting to grow among a handful of Tunisians," explains Blaise. "Political instability, insecurity and economic uncertainty had left some people disappointed with the revolution and expressing nostalgia for the Ben Ali era.”

So Boufaied and Blaise launched their project. They wanted to understand this nostalgia and film the documentary before the 2014 presidential elections. But it was hard for the pair to find funding though: “Right from the start, we knew that the subject matter we were focusing on was unlikely to win us any grants”, explains Lilia Blaise. “It was our first film, and neither of us had many contacts in the world of documentaries and film."

They could, however, count on the support of a local production company, Artworks, which granted them a budget to cover filming and would be a partner with which they could work on the material. To cover post-production costs, Amine and Lilia raised money through crowdfunding platform kisskissbankbank.com. Although their documentary did come to life, the two filmmakers weren't able to pay themselves a salary.

They pooled together their respective skills and perspectives, that of a filmmaker and that of a journalist. The result: a documentary with a perspective somewhere between the two professions, without any voiceover: interviews with experts -- a psychologist, a philosopher and a media specialist -- form the central thread of the documentary, and their words intertwine with citizens’ accounts. The interviews follow on from one another, some with too few illustrative images, others in waves at a fast pace that risks leaving the viewer behind. When it came to archive material, the filmmakers had to get creative, as it was impossible for them to make “a real historical documentary”.

Blaise explains: “We were missing a lot of archive images and written accounts on what Ben Ali did, as everything is kept under lock and key, waiting to be released as a part of transitional justice.”

Although their documentary runs out of breath in places, it draws the spectator into a labyrinth of questions. “Talking about Ben Ali is still taboo, it’s normal for the film to provoke a certain amount of debate," says Blaise. "What’s really been rewarding are the debates we had with the audience after the screenings in Paris and Tunis."

The way the film looks at the relationship with the figure of dictator also makes it resonate in particular with the Arab world. Indeed, discussions were also lively in Beirut after the screening of the film, with viewers drawing parallels between it and their own history.

It’s now up to these two young filmmakers to find a distributor for the film, so that they can get it shown as much as possible, above all, they hope, in Tunisia.

Anaïs Renevier

Translation: Phoebe Murray


7 Lives -- trailer:

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