Lilia Blaise, journalist and director of 7 Lives

"Islamists, leftist activists, rebellious workers and trade unionists underwent the same torture and abuse"


Lilia Blaise, journalist and director of 7 Lives

Euromed Audiovisual met Lilia Blaise and Amine Boufaied, respectively Franco-Tunisian journalist and director, and Tunisian co-director of 7 Lives (7 Vies), a documentary that challenges the current popular nostalgia of Ben Ali's dictatorship.


How did you choose who to interview?

My work [as a journalist] in Tunisia led me to the "experts": judge Mokhtar Yahyaoui, psychiatrist Saida Douki Dedieu, philosopher Youssef Seddik, media specialist Riadh Ferjani and researcher Vincent Geisser. This choice was approved by Amine. They had integrity. Rather than staying in their ivory towers, they had chosen to live among the people. Above all, they were not as politicised as some intellectuals who have now joined political parties. Many like Mokhtar Yahyaoui and Youssef Seddik had expressed their opposition to Ben Ali and paid the price for it: exclusionfor Yahyaoui and more-or-less forced exile for Seddik.

We found the other characters through my work as a journalist, and through Amine’s contacts. We knew the profiles we wanted: ordinary people that everyone could identify with: the businesswoman at the central market, the taxi driver; and the barber Salem. They all have a sort of nostalgia of the dictatorship era and its economic security that they believe they lost with the revolution.

We then wanted witnesses, people who had lived through the Ben Ali years and been directly affected: Redeyef Mohamed Soudani, Khalil Abbes and Houcine Ghodbane. The first experienced the aborted revolution of 2008, one that already signaled socio-economic uneasiness in highly marginalised areas. The second was a trade unionist tortured under Ben Ali. The third was a student from Jbeniana, near Sfax, a city known for its leftist resistance. He had grown up with this opposition, and had been a victim of police oppression as a student activist and trade unionist. The fourth, Houcine, is an Islamist who spent 17 years in Bourguiba and Ben Ali's jails for having been a member of el-Nahdha party. He was also tortured.

These witnesses were extremely important because 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. It was impossible to access the archives, like those from the national television broadcaster, for which you have to pay. Because of all the propaganda, little evidence exists of the regime's torture and other crimes. This is why surviving witnesses were very important to recount what was going on behind everyone's image of the dictator. It was important to show that Islamists, leftist activists, rebellious workers and trade unionists had undergone the same torture and abuse.

We chose Emtyez, because it's hard to find anybody today who dares to talk about the population's implicit complicity in what the regime was doing. Only Emtyez dared to speak up about the fact that, like everyone else, she believed in Ben Ali's desired image, that she turned a blind eye to certain things. Her journey is interesting because she is part of this affluent youth who only realised the importance of political commitment and activism with the revolution. Her second appearance in the film is in her office at the World Organization of Torture. By getting involved, she has done some extraordinary work in remembering and establishing what happened.

The character of Anissa Daoud is interesting because she represents those Tunisians who were able to take artistic and intellectual distance from the regime, and because she worked on a play examining Ben Ali and Leila's rise to power. She had true knowledge of the popular syndrome that goes, "Arabs need a dictator," and she was a very good analyst.

Finally, the martyr's father was a very important character for us, because this film is foremost a reminder of why the Tunisians led a revolution and why remembering what happened is important. The father brutally reminds us that his son died in the revolution and like many other parents of martyrs, he has not seen any justice.

Generally, we wanted to represent Tunisian society in all its diversity: social, regional, political and professional. That's also why we interviewed two former members of the Democratic Constitutional Rally [Ben Ali's party], because it was important to have another point of view from those inside, those who believed in Ben Ali and his party, and who still defend him today.

What were the challenges during filming and editing?

We were very disappointed not to be able to shoot at the presidential palace, as it's very symbolic of the dictatorship. Despite our repeated requests, we were denied access without explanation.

During editing, it was tough because I have a more journalistic eye and my co-director Amine has a more cinematic one. We spent a lot of time talking, and reviewing the footage and interviews, to sort out what we wanted.


Anaïs Renevier

Translation: Yma de Almeida

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