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Tunis’ 1,800-seat Colisée has one of the 14 screens operating in Tunisia

is screening Harry Potter And The Deathly Hal- lows: Part 2. It is the only new Western picture to have been released theatrically in Tunisia since a popular uprising overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. The 1,800-seat Colisée (Colosseum),

described by posters in its entrance hall as the Queen of Theatres, is one of just 14 screens oper- ating in Tunisia for a population of some 10.6 million people. And during this pleasant autumn afternoon, the theatre is practically empty. In a nearby side street, a shop selling coun-

terfeit DVDs — one of 70,000 such outlets in the country —displays illegal copies of Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Due Date and Green Lantern for $1.40 (TND2) apiece. “With so much piracy, there is no incentive

for anyone to invest in theatres,” says Colisée owner Lassaad Goubantini, who sells tickets for $2 (TND3). According to veteran producer Has- sen Daldoul, the illegal DVD distributors are so well organised they even have a union affiliated with UTICA, the official umbrella body for the country’s business and industry. Back on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the wide

pavements are packed with people, some win- n 14 Screen International at the AFM November 4, 2011

Tunisia gets ready for its close-up O

n a Saturday afternoon in downtown Tunis at the beginning of October, the Colisée cinema on the Tunisian capi- tal’s swanky Avenue Habib Bourguiba

dow shopping, others scrutinising political- party posters stuck on walls ahead of the first democratic vote in 25 years. At the other end of the avenue, in the Tunisia

Palace Hotel, director Nawfel Saheb-Ettaba is pitching his feature project Baccalauréat to a group of French producers at the first Franco- Tunisian co-production forum, organised by France’s CNC, Unifrance and the Tunisian pro- ducers’ body, CSNPF. A French protectorate from 1881-1956, Tuni-

‘We could create a network of

200 screens’ Lotfi Layouni, CSNPF

sia has retained strong cultural and linguistic ties with France and earlier this year, the CNC advised Tunisia on how to set up its own national cinema centre. Saheb-Ettaba’s project revolves around a

teenager who sets off on an illegal trip across the Mediterranean to Europe in search of a bet- ter life. “It upsets me to see so many young peo- ple setting off like this full of hope, only to die anonymously out at sea,” the director tells the French producers who include Marc Bachet of ASAP, Guillaume de Seille of Arizona, and Nadim Cheikhrouha and Yves Chanvillard of Screen Runner. “A year or two back, a number of corpses were washed up on the beach near my house in Marsa and since then I have wanted to make this film.” Baccalauréat will be Saheb-Ettaba’s third fea- ture following El Kotbia and Black Moon, which

The North African country has long been popular with international directors shooting on location, but since this year’s revolution the local industry is looking to expand. Melanie Goodfellow finds a territory eager for change

is in post. At present, Tunisia makes one or two low-budget local pictures a year. Its independ- ent producers would like to increase this to 10 films annually. The Tunisian state currently sets aside some $3.4m (¤2.5m) a year for local pro- ductions. But one of the key challenges facing the industry is how to increase the number of legal screening venues in the face of rampant piracy, says veteran producer Lotfi Layouni, who is vice-chairman of the CSNPF. The body is lobbying the minister of culture to

turn screening facilities situated inside the coun- try’s 200 state-run cultural centres over to the legal commercial exploitation of theatrical films. “About 40 of these ‘maisons de la culture’

already have proper screening facilities with 200-600 seats. Another 160 venues could easily be equipped,” explains Layouni. “That would make a network of some 200 screens, against the 14 functioning theatres today.”

The Quinta factor The other side of Tunisia’s film industry is the well-financed activities of Tunisia-born, Paris- based entertainment mogul Tarak Ben Ammar and his Quinta Communications group. Over the past two decades he has brought in big- budget international productions such as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, The English Patient and, most recently, Jean-Jacques Annaud’s epic


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