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      Le cinéma tunisien

Tunisian Cinema

A will for creative films:

Tunisian cinema was born from particularly fertile terrain, that of filmgoer and of and admiration for the great works of cinema in the world.

Ain Gazel Beginning in 1922, the precursor and genial jack of all trades, Albert Samama Chikly, made his short film (fiction), Zohra followed in 1924 by a medium length film, Ain el-Ghazal (The Girl from Carthage), becoming, thus, one of the very first native filmmakers on the African continent. Later, in 1949, seven years after its political independence, Tunisia was already of the African countries with a large number of cine-clubs. Tahar Cheriaa, president of the Federation of Cine-clubs, became Director of Cinema as a part of the new Ministry of Culture, having been naturally the “father” of the first Tunisian productions - the first Tunisian feature length fiction films Al-Fajr (The Dawn) by Omar Khlifi and Khlifa al-Agraa (Khlifa the Cantankerous) by Hamouda Ben Halima were filmed in 1966 and 1967 - and the creator of the first Pan-African and Pan-Arab festival in history, the Carthage Film Festival (CFF) which has enjoyed popular success since 1966.

Omar Khlifi                 alfajr                 Khlifa al-Agraa

The cine-clubs, numerous clubs for amateur film buffs, and the CFF have contributed at the same time to filmmakers and a demanding public. At first glance, it wasn’t a question of aligning with the only “premier” Arab cinema that existed, that of commercial Egyptian cinema, a grand purveyor of melodramas and. It was more a question for the majority of filmmakers to succeed, each their own style, original films of “expression” (politics, society, culture, etc.), each with the stamp of its director and seeing the artistic quality already having been attained worldwide and that, with a few exceptions. film_tunisien

Freedom of Choice

This explains the difference with our Maghrebi neighbors who, for a variety of reasons, have attempted to follow in an epic vein or a populist vein. These two categories are practically absent from Tunisian filmography, where “films d’auteur” dominate.

The films are very different, one from the other; for example, the esthetic choices of Nacer Khemir have nothing to do with those of Nouri Bouzid.

In spite of a general sense of “family” and obvious cross references, it is at a point where practically each Tunisian director represents his own school.

This freedom of choice has been promoted by the fact that Tunisia possesses likewise, cinematic censorship (different from television censorship) that is indubitably one of the most flexible in the Arab world.

Scenes banned in other Arab countries and that have been cut when the films are shown, such as female nudity in Halfaouine, homosexuality in L’Homme de cendres, political opposition in Les Sabots en or, sexual tourism in Bezness, misery in poor communities in Essaïda and Poupées d’Argile, the right to sexual development of women in Fatma and Satin rouge, were finally accepted by the Tunisian censors since they judged them necessary for the coherence of the work.

These factors, a large cinema-going public and freedom of expression, as well as the support of the private sector, have permitted the emergence of particularly dynamic producers in spite of the difficulties inherent in the market. Producers such as Ahmed Bahaeddine Attia (Cinétéléfilms), Hassan Daldoul (Touza Films), Abdelaziz Ben Mlouka (CTV), Nejib Ayed (Rives Productions), Lotfi Layouni, Selma Baccar and today Dora Bouchoucha, Ibrahim Letaïef, and Nejib Belkadhi have, during the decade from 1986-1996, culminated in a sort of “golden age” for the creators and the public.

“Films d’auteur” in popular culture

Certainly, during the previous decade, Tunisian cinema has already shined, with many films at international festivals, such as Sejnane (1974) and Aziza (1980) by Abdelatif Ben Ammar, Les Ambassadeurs (1976) by Naceur Ktari, Soleil des hyènes (1977) by Ridha Behi, La Trace (1982) by Nejia Ben Mabrouk, L’ombre de la terre (1982) by Taieb Louhichi, Traversées (1982) by Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, or Les Baliseurs du désert (1984) by Naceur Khemir, and all winners.

Beginning with Rih al-Sud (The Man of Ashes – 1986) by Nouri Bouzid, the miracle was, contrary to what was happening in most of the countries of the South where “films d’auteur” were confined to the art scene or exclusively destined for the “prestige” of foreign festivals, the Tunisian public has, without precedent, triumphed with national films (shattering box office records of Hollywood or Egyptian films), even with “difficult” films, like Chichkhan by Jaïbi/Ben Mahmoud or Soltane el-Medina by Moncef Dhouib, and thus “inventing” a new film category, both intellectual and popular, that of mass “films d’auteur! This local triumph was coupled with an external triumph: a truly commercial distribution on an international scale (surpassing thus the simple “festival exposition” obtained by films already record breakers at home like Les Silences du palais by Moufida Tlatli, Halfaouine and Un été à la Goulette by Ferid Boughedir, and later, abroad Satin rouge by Raja Amari). The authors of these films having seen themselves as often honored by an invitation to sit on official juries at the largest international festivals such as Cannes, Venice and Berlin.

If Tunisian cinema is today recognized as one of the most liberal, most inventive (and one of the most winning) cinemas of the Arab world, it is also considered in the context of the modernism of a country that has succeeded in eradicating illiteracy and where the emancipation of women, decreed since 1956, is again reinforced these past years, remains a unique case in the Arab-Muslim world. The status of women is certainly at the origin of the calling for a large number of women filmmakers, and it seems to have changed society profoundly, to the point where the woman’s situation is, most clearly, at the heart of almost all the films directed by a great majority of men as well as those directed by women, of which all the films center on a female character.

Most of the directors cited are in their fifties, from the generation of cine-clubs, which predates the emergence of television. For the feature films, alongside such film pioneers as Kalthoum Bornaz and Fadhel Jaziri, new names have since appeared ; those of Mohamed Zran, Nidhal Chatta, Mohamed Damak, Khaled Ghorbal, Mohamed Ben Smaïl, Jilani Saadi, Naoufel Saheb Ettabaa, Nadia El Fani, Khaled Barsaoui, Mokhtar Ladjimi, Elyes Baccar, Moez Kamoun, Hichem Ben Ammar (documentaries) and directors living abroad such as Abdelatif Kechiche and Kamel Cherif, both recipients of a Golden Lion at Venice and Kechiche winning no less than 4 Césars for the same film.

Today, after a severe decline in local audiences and a desertion of movie theaters caused by, among other things, the widespread use of satellite TV (more than 68% of Tunisian households have them), a promising “digital generation”, largely self financed and free and inventive, are coming into being. The group, “Dix courts, dix regards” and the docu-drama, VHS-Kahloucha along with the vitality of 35mm represented in films such as Le Prince by Mohamed Zran, Khochkhach by Selma Baccar and La Télé arrive! by Moncef Dhouib have succeeded in renewing the link with the national public.

Tunisia: Land of the film set

What is the link between such different films as the Star Wars saga by George Lucas, The English Patient by Anthony Minghella, Indiana Jones by Steven Spielberg, Pirates by Roman Polanski, Jesus of Nazareth by Franco Zeffirelli, The Big Carnival by Alexandre Arcady, Madame Butterfly by Frederic Mitterrand and The Tiger and the Snow by Roberto Begnini?

One and only one link. They were all successfully filmed in the amazing diversity of the Tunisian landscape, with the help of quality Tunisian contractors with their teams of highly qualified technicians. Tarak Ben Ammar, a Tunisian producer of international status, promotes this industry, which assists foreign filmmakers, who have benefited from its efficient management since the 1970s. He runs Carthago Film Services and Quinta productions, the creators of Empire Studios near the seaside resort of Hammamet (where ancient Rome was entirely “permanently” recreated and where a long series was filmed about the Roman emperors) and is the owner of numerous post production facilities in France and a brand new, ultra modern facility in Tunisia: LTC GAMMARTH.
Since the 90s, numerous other competitive companies serving the foreign film industry have become successful : CTV (Star Wars, la Vérité si je mens 2, etc) IMF (The English Patient, The Tiger and the Snow, etc.), Cinetéléfilms (Le nombril du monde, Madame Butterfly, Bent Kaltoum, etc..), Nomadis images, (le Soleil Assassiné, The Officers, etc.), Alya Films (A kid and the magic lamp, Les amants du Nil, etc…), Sindbad (Last days of Pompeï, The gospel of Judas etc.), Rives Productions (Le Journaliste), are among the list of companies that can be obtained by contacting the National Federation of Services of UTICA (1) (Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and the Arts).

Why have foreign films been successfully made in Tunisia?
  • Approximately two hours from Europe, the Sahara and the Mediterranean meet to offer Tunisia diverse natural scenery and spectacular landscapes, all in proximity to each other.
  • Equipment and knowledgeable technicians confirmed by great directors the world over
  • A modern people, a competitive touristic infrastructure, convenient airports, a tradition of welcoming people, continuous security and of course, and always, one of these LIGHTS…
(1) Fédération Nationale des services.
UTICA. Union Tunisienne de l’Industrie, du Commerce et de l’Artisanat.
80 avenue Jughurta - 1002 Mutuelleville Tunis - Tunisie (Tunisia)
Tel: (216) 71 281 537 - Fax : (216) 71 802 678
Mobile : (216) 98 336 848
Site web :
Email :

  • 1897: First films shown in Tunis.
  • 1908: The first movie theater, OMNIA-PATHE, opens in Tunis.
  • 1922: Albert Samama Chikli makes the first short film Zohra.
  • 1924: Albert Samama Chikli films Aïn el-ghazal.
  • 1927: The first Tunisian film distribution company, TUNIS-FILM, created.
  • 1937: First Tunisian feature length film, Le Fou de Kairouan by J-André Creuzy.
  • 1939: Movie theaters open in a number of Tunisian cities.
  • 1942: First mobile movie truck which projected films in villages.
  • 1946: First cine-club in Tunis. Africa studios created.
  • 1953: First filmed news, Les Actualités Tunisiennes.
  • 1954: Creation of the Cinémathèque tunisienne (no longer in existence).
  • 1955 : First private production company, El-Ahd El-Jadid, producer of Actualités Tunisiennes.
  • 1957 : Creation of SATPEC (National Company for the Production, Importation, and Distribution of Films. No longer in existence).
  • 1960 : Publication of the legal text, “Code for cinema”.
  • 1961 : Omar Khlifi makes two short films: Une Page de notre histoire and Oncle Mosbah.
  • 1962 : Foundation of the A.J.C.T. (Association for Young Tunisian Filmmakers), that would later become FTCA (Tunisian Federation of Amateur Filmmakers) in 1968.
  • 1963 : Creation of 30 cultural centers provided with 16mm projectors, a cine-bus for rural areas and the creation of a national film bank.
  • 1964 : First session of the Amateur Film Festival of Kelibia (FIFAK) in the Cap Bon.
  • 1966 : Filming of Al fajr (The Dawn) by Omar Khlifi and the first session of the Carthage Film Festival (JCC), founded by Tahar Cheriaa. The first broadcast for Tunisian tunisienne.
  • 1967 : SATPEC creates the cinema production complex at Gammarth. Filming of Khlifa le teigneux by Hamouda Ben Halima.
  • 1968 : Filming of feature films Al-Moutamarred (The Rebel) by Omar Khlifi and Mokhtarby Sadok Ben Aïcha.
  • 1969 : Publication of the legal text establishing SATPEC as the only importer of films in the country.
  • 1970 : Filming of Au pays de Tararani by Hamouda Ben Halima, Férid Boughedir and Hédi Ben Khalifa, Une si simple histoire by Abdellatif Ben Ammar, an official selection at Cannes. Creation of L’ACT (Association of Tunisian Filmmakers).
  • 1972 : Yusra by Rachid Ferchiou and Et demain? by Brahim Babaï, a special screening at Cannes.
  • 1974 : Sejnane by Abdellatif Ben Ammar, Tanit d’argent at CFF.
  • 1976 : The feature film on emigration, al-Sufara (The Ambassadors) by Nacer Ktari, Tanit d’or at the 76 CFF, is the first Tunisian film to have wide commercial release in Europe.
  • 1977 : Selected for Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes), Soleil des Hyènes by Ridha Béhi is followed by a long release in Europe.
  • 1978 : The Nouveau Théâtre Company makes La Noce without state assistance.
  • 1980 : Aziza by Abdellatif Ben Ammar, Tanit d’or at the CFF.
  • 1981 : End of the monopoly on the importation and distribution of films by SATPEC and the beginning of the rise of private distributors. Filming of La Trace by Nejia Ben Mabrouk and Traversées by Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud.
  • 1982 : L’Ombre de la terre by Taieb Louhichi selected for International Critics’ Week (Cannes).
  • 1983 : New color laboratories at SATPEC in Gammarth. Caméra d’Afrique by Férid Boughedir is an official selection at Cannes.
  • 1984 : Les Baliseurs du désert by Nacer Khémir, Grand Prize at Nantes and Valencia.
  • 1985 : Carthago Films Studios headed by Tarak ben Ammar host the shooting of Pirates by Roman Polanski. Les Anges by Ridha Béhi is chosen for Directors’ Fortnight.
  • 1986 : L’Homme de cendres by Nouri Bouzid, an official selection at Cannes, wins the Tanit d’or at the CFF. Filming of Champagne amer by Ridha Behi.
  • 1987 : Caméra arabe by Férid Boughedir an official selection at Cannes
  • 1988 : Creation of the film producers’ trade union (affiliated with l’UTICA).
  • 1989 : Arab by Fadhel Jaziri and Fadhel Jaïbi and Les Sabots en or by Nouri Bouzid respectively, selected for International Critics’ Week and Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Leïla ma raison by T. Louhichi competing at the Festival of Venice. Filming of Cœur nomade (Regaya) by Fitouri Belhiba
  • 1990 : Halfaouine by Férid Boughedir, selected for Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes) wins the Tanit d’or and the award for best actor at the CFF, and the grand prizes of Valencia, Bastia, and Montréal.
  • 1991 : Halfaouine is chosen for the Césars is the opening film for "New Directors, New films" in New York. Chichkhan by Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud and Fadhel Jaïbi chosen for Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes), Le Collier perdu de la colombe by Nacer Khémir is at Locarno.
  • 1992 : Bezness by Nouri Bouzid selected for Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes). Les Zazous de la vague by Mohamed Ali El-Okbi is released.
  • 1993 : Soltane el-Medina by Moncef Dhouib is released.
  • 1994 : Les Silences du palais by Moufida Tlatli Selected for Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes), wins the Tanit d’or and the award for Best Actress at the CFF.
  • 1995 : La Danse du feu by Selma Baccar and Les Hirondelles ne meurent pas à Jérusalem by Ridha Behi are released.
  • 1996 : Un été à la Goulette by Férid Boughedir in the official competition at Berlin, Essaida by Mohamed Zran, award for a first work at the CFF.
  • 1997 : Bent familia (Tunisian Women) by Nouri Bouzid chosen for Critics’ Week at Venice.
  • 1998 : Demain je brûle by Mohamed Ben Smaïl, chosen for Critics’ Week at Venice. Release of Keswa by Khaltoum Bornaz. Filming of Siestes grenadines by Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud, Sois mon amie by Nacer Ktari and No Man’s Love by Nidhal Chatta. Inauguration of the Musée du cinéma. Le Festin by Mohamed Damak, Tanit d’Or for short films at the CFF.
  • 2000 : La Saison des hommes by Moufida Tlatli selected for Un certain regard (Cannes).
  • 2001 : Fatma de Khaled Gorbal selected for Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes).
  • 2002 : Satin rouge by Raja Amari chosen for Forum (Berlin). La Boite magique by Ridha Behi is an official selection at Venise, Khorma by Jilani Saadi and El-kotbia by Naoufel Saheb Ettabaa at the CFF. Poupées d’argile by Nouri Bouzid wins the Tanit d’argent and the award for Best Actor, La Boite magique, the Special Jury Prize and Raïs Labhar (O, Captain of the Seas!) by Hichem Ben Ammar, the prize for Best Documentary. Release of Le Chant de la noria by Abdelatif Ben Ammar.
  • 2004 : Release of La Villa by Mohamed Damak. Three premier works : Parole d’hommes by Moez Kamoun, Noces d’été by Moktar Ladjimi and Elle et Lui by Elyes Baccar, at the CFF. Visa by Ibrahim Letaief, Tanit d'or for Best Short Film.
  • 2005 : Release of Le Prince by Mohamed Zran.
  • 2006 : 9 new Tunisian Feature Films : Making off, le dernier Film by Nouri Bouzid, Khochkhach, Fleur d’oubli by Selma Baccar, La Télé arrive! by Moncef Dhouib, Tendresse du Loup by Jilani Saâdi, El Lombara by Ali Labidi, Bin El Widyane by Khaled Barsaoui, L’autre moitié by Kalthoum Bornaz and the documentaries, Ring by Hichem Ben Ammar and VHS -Kahloucha by Néjib Belkadhi. The cinema complex at Gammarth was entirely renovated by Tarak Ben Ammar and took the name, LTC-Gammarth. Successful organization of the first session of “Doc à Tunis”…
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