The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
Ibrahim Letaïef is a Tunisian director and producer. Ibrahim created his own production company Long et Court in 1997, before he used to work as a journalist and TV producer. He has directed and produced a number of notable long and short films including Un rire de trop (2000), Visa (2004) and award-winning Cinecittà (2008) that was a box-office hit in Tunisia. Ibrahim received the National Culture Award in 2009, naming him the best director in Tunisia. He is the director of the Carthage Film Festival, the oldest festival of its kind in Africa that takes place in Tunisia.
What do you think the Carthage Film Festival has contributed to African and world cinema?
I think we can be proud of this year’s festival, given that on the third day, a suicide bomber killed 12 members of the Tunisian presidential guard and this tragic event took place just 500 metres from the hotel where 80 per cent of our guests were staying. After the attack, we decided to keep showing films. The cinemas were full with many more spectators than we had originally forecast. And from an artistic perspective, I am satisfied with what we were able to achieve, given the tragic circumstances.
How do you think the festival can foster creativity for young African creatives who are thinking of venturing into the film world?
If we look at the Carthage Film Festival as a menu, then the main dish is African and Arab cinema. Of the 300 films we showed this year, you have mostly movies from the African and Arab worlds but you have other movies as well; films by directors like the late Manoel de Oliveira and other auteurs. We feel that young Africans and young Arabs must learn and be inspired by other cultural experiences.
We organise masterclasses for young talent, on topics like scriptwriting. The festival is also a school and a place where young people can meet film professionals. The truth is we look for movies that deal with societal issues. We find that many of the movies we show are concerned with youth, terrorism and poverty in African and Arab societies. Even many of the comedies tend to deal with those issues.
A film like Much Loved (2015) by the Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch, which deals with prostitution in Marrakech and which ended up taking the Special Jury Prize, I had already seen at the Cannes Film Festival and I came back from Cannes with a recommendation to the artistic committee that we should show it.
It was important for us that after the controversy, we screened it as part of the official selection, that we took full responsibility for the film.
I liked the way the camera moved, the way he treated these women with respect, the way he did not show any gratuitous sex scenes and the reality is, prostitution is a really big issue in Morocco. And elsewhere. The public was expecting a pornographic film, but Much Loved confronts the taboo in an intelligent way and shows the different levels of misery linked to prostitution, and how prostitution affects society as a whole.
Back when we selected it Much Loved was not even censored by the Moroccan government, or any other government for that matter. And it was important for us that after the controversy, we screened it as part of the official selection, that we took full responsibility for the film. And when we finally screened it during the festival, the theatre was full. More than 1,600 people came to see Much Loved.
Unfortunately, after the attack, we couldn’t screen it a second, or third time, as we would have liked, but the film will be shown in Tunisia and I’d like to think that the Carthage Film Festival will help Much Loved to obtain an operating visa.
Who’s your African of the year?
I can think of so many people, but for me the Tunisia National Dialogue Quartet who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year do stand out. They are Tunisian, they are African and they are also Arabic. They are my Africans of the year.
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