Arts & Entertainment

Women’s Cinema: putting women behind the camera in Tunisia

Natalia Román Morte

Tunis, 7 Nov (EFE).- A project in Tunisia known as “Women’s Cinema” is hoping to train Tunisian women in front of the camera as well as behind it. Many of the women the project is targeting are young with few resources and no experience as part of a mission to transform the film industry, which is often accused of being secretive and elitist, as well as being dominated by men.

A study by American think tank “The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative”, found that of the 1,100 highest-grossing films of the last decade, only 43 were directed by women and only 30 percent of them featured women in leading roles. Tunisian cinema, with a much more limited budget and production – with an average of 12 films per year – is no exception.

“I didn’t choose women because they are women, I chose them because they have so much skill, they have their own voices, their own subjects, their own originality,” the project’s founder and director, Ismahane Lahmar tells Efe. “And that’s the goal of feminist cinema.”

“Many women in fact work in the industry but don’t have the possibility of reaching high posts,” she adds. “Projects are being developed in all sectors to promote parity, and this is the opportunity to apply it to the world of cinema.”

Out of a hundred applicants, only twelve were selected to become apprentices in the various cinematic crafts: from scriptwriting, through costume design, props, editing and even directing.

The film school has a budget of 350,000 dinars (about 110,000 euros) thanks to the Swiss foundation Drosos and plans to work for one month of preparation, three weeks of filming and two months of post-production.

Under the title “I’m going to hell”, it tells the story of a Tunisian woman who returns to her country to plan her own death after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Time is the leitmotif, both on and off screen.


With no official release date set due to the paralysis affecting the industry because of the coronavirus, the pressing issue is not the premiere, but rather planning production on set amid the challenge of a curfew, which bans all non-essential activities between 8pm and 5am.

As if that were not enough, one of the sponsors, a hotel in the city of Nabeul (50 kilometres from the capital) where the equipment was supposed to be stored, was requisitioned at the last minute by the state to deal with the pandemic, which has already caused more than 64,000 infections and 1,500 deaths in Tunisia.

“It’s very tight because we shoot between five and seven scenes each day, which is huge for a film set, so there is that pressure, plus we have to train the girls so that they are ready for the next film and to have a position and be paid on the next shoot,” says Wafa Mimouni.

She is making her debut as the first director of photography for a Tunisian feature, a pilot film made almost exclusively by women with the exception of four men in the machinery, sound, lighting and electronics departments.

“There are a number of jobs that are associated with men because they require a physical effort and the few women who do work do not make it to management positions. With this film we want to change people’s mentalities,” says Mimouni, who has been an assistant camera operator for 12 years.


One of the new recruits is Donia Guessmi, a 28-year-old who has gone from repairing cars to becoming the country’s first assistant camera operator, whose task is to assemble and dismantle cranes, platforms and all sorts of filming equipment.

“It may be because society is macho and does not accept that a woman should be in a profession considered to be masculine. But if a man can do it, why can’t a woman?” Guessmi, who dreams of combining her new profession with a mechanical workshop for women, wonders.

In the hairdressing and make-up department, 30-year-old Hajer Lakhdher says the roles are reversed.

“There are more and more men, although when it comes to films from the Gulf countries, women are still favored because the actresses feel more comfortable, especially when it comes to preparing intimate scenes,” says Lakhder.

The aim of this initiative is to create a support network among professionals and, at the same time, a film micro-economy in which beginners can in turn train future female disciples.

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