Director finds Arab, Latin American cinema alike

Tunisian filmmaker Lofti Achour is in São Paulo to promote his first feature film ‘Burning Hope’ and participate in a debate at the Arab World Film Festival at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil.

Bruna Garcia Fonseca

São Paulo – “I see similarities between Arab and Latin American cinema productions: both convey social criticism and a search for freedom,” said Tunisian director Lofti Achour (pictured), who is in São Paulo to promote and participate in a debate about his first feature film Burning Hope (85 min, 2017), which is being screened at the Arab World Film Festival through October 28 at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil.

Achour wrote and directed the movie and talked to ANBA about that, the short film Law of Lamb (15 min, 2016), which will also be screened at the show, and his future project, a documentary about Tunisian police brutality during the country’s dictatorship.

The movie “Burning Hope” is set during the Jasmine Revolution in 2011 and leaps to three years later. “It’s about the encounter of three young people, a boy and two girls during a popular demonstration,” said Achour. A policeman tries to rape the boy and the two young women step in and beat the man, believing they have killed him. But three years later, they discover that the policeman is still alive and meet him again. “I grew up with the police brutality in my country and that has pervaded my last works. ‘Law of Lamb’ is also about that – abuse of authority, corruption – but with humor, sarcasm. It’s a comedy about corruption in Tunisia, where the grandpa is fooled and the policemen enjoy fooling him,” he explained.

Achour said that the short movie competed in Cannes Festival and was screened in seminars to debate corruption in the country. “There is no censorship anymore in our country and I work on creating the best works possible. I’m concerned about art, aesthetics, but a meaningful one. My interest was never to be commercial,” he said.

Achour (R) and Arghur Jafet (L), the Festival’s curator

The filmmaker traveled through Tunisia to screen his feature film in places where there’s no movie theaters. “‘Burning Hope’ had fifty free screenings. We traveled around the country with a truck, a screen and a projector and reached an audience of ten thousand people,” he stressed. Achour said that Tunisia has just twenty cinema rooms, almost all of them in Tunis, and for a country with 12 million residents this a very small number.

About the documentary that he’s producing. Achour said he recorded testimonies by 63 people that talked to the Court of Transitional Justice – which judges torture and corruption crimes that took place during the dictatorial regimen. “I recorded the testimonies but not the judges, for their safety, and it’s hard since 95% of the defendants don’t go to the courtrooms. The government doesn’t want to know what happened, since many people now in the government were implicated too,” he said.

Nevertheless, Achour believes that the elected president, Law professor Kais Saïd, was the better option compared to his opponent, mogul Nabil Karoui. “Despite being old and conservative, he was the better option. He campaigned against the dictatorship. The young people voted for him. Many graduated young people are jobless, around 50% of the economy is informal in the country – we live hard times, but we are hopeful. The old system is dying; it’ll take long, but it’s going to get better,” he believes.

This is the second time the filmmaker comes to Brazil. “I’m also a theater director and staged an adaptation of Macbeth (Macbeth – Leila and Ben: a Bloody History) for the World Shakespeare Festival in London, which occurred during the Olympics’ year, in 2012, and the University of São Paulo (USP) hosted a large drama festival (Bienal Internacional de Teatro da USP) and invited us to stage the play here in 2013,” he told.

The director believes that cinema brings people together and bridges gaps. “Cinema really brings us together – this is no demagogy. It’s a window that allow us to discover things we don’t know about far-off places, and human issues are identified with despite the geography, in very different countries,” he said, mentioning the time that his movie “Père” (15 min, 2014) was screened in Japan. “We had a debate afterwards and some Japanese women that suffered prejudice for having had children outside marriage said they had seen themselves in the movie. They are very traditional there,” he said.

The debate with the director takes place on Saturday (19) at 5:30 pm after his two movies are screened. Check out the full program.

Translated by Guilherme Miranda

Bruna Garcia/ANBA
Bruna Garcia/ANBA

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