Nearly a year after the uprisings that toppled former president Ben Ali last January, Tunisian animation film, a small field so far, is making itself seen at home and abroad. Online, young Tunisians have started posting their animation shorts, after video sharing platforms YouTube and Vimeo were unblocked by censors at the beginning of the year.
Wassim Ben Rhouma, head of the not-for-profit Tunisian Association of Animation Film (ATCA), has compiled a list of the country’s animation films. Although some may be missing, he says, from 1971, there are 25 films.
“We have no cinema in Tunisia, we have films,” says the young media production manager, and this is linked to a lack of producers, education under former president Ben Ali, and a previous lack of encouragement for any culture except football.
In 2010, Ben Rhouma and friends decided to set up the association to promote Tunisian animation films at home and abroad. Earlier this month, he showed a selection of films at two events in France.
“They were dazzled by the creativity of Tunisians,” he says, adding that the French public particularly enjoyed Coma by Aladin Abou Taleb, 2010, and the award-winning L’Ambouba by Nadia Rais, 2009 - both to be screened again this December.
In Coma, Aladin Abou Taleb, 24, depicts a skeletic man rising up from the dead to tackle an authoritarian monster. The film was written, produced, and even screened before the Tunisian uprisings. At the Arab Shorts film festival in Cairo in October, where Coma was shown, Tunisian film curator Walid Tayaa dubbed the young filmmaker “one of the promising young talents in animation movies and graphic design.”
Other Tunisian short films screened this month will include La Poule de Saba by Rafik Omrani, 2010, and L’Enfant Roi by Mohamed Hussein Grayaa, 2006, as well as La Goutte Miraculeuse by Tunisian animation film pioneer Zuhair Mahjoub, 2009.
But Tunisia also has a good selection of animated short films online, says Ben Rhouma. The Tunisian Cyber Revolution, Free Gas Bomb for All, and this Kharabeesh cartoon of the police in Tunisia all appeared after censors opened access to sites such as YouTube and Vimeo last January after five years of them being blocked to all, except via proxy. Some will be screened at the upcoming Animation Film Days.
The future of Tunisian animation films?
“The future is bright,” says Ben Rhouma. “It is full of hope. We have started to come out of our closedness, we have started to talk about ourselves.”
Although, animation film is more developped in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt, he says, he prefers a comparison with the animation industry in US and Japan, where they are at the top of their game.
Coma - Trailer: