The notion that culture, and cinema in particular, is a very useful tool for the social integration of prisoners is neither original nor new. However, it is a pioneering experience that a film festival performs some of its projections in prisons, including a world premiere with the actors and the film crew. And that is precisely what was decided by those responsible for the Jornadas Cinematográficas de Cartago (JCC), one of the most important and oldest festivals in Tunisia and throughout Africa, in collaboration with the World Organization Against Torture. The film in question is Pardon, from the veteran Tunisian director Najua Slama.
"I think it's an appropriate film to project here. It is a story that can reach them, in which they can see their feelings reflected, since it goes from an innocent person who was sentenced to several years in prison, "said Abed Fahed, the film's leading actor, at the entrance to the movie theater. from the prison of Burj Erroumi. This prison, of infamous memory for having been the scene of cruel tortures during the regime of Ben Ali, is located on the top of a hill overlooking the sea overlooking the city of Bizerte, about 50 kilometers north of the capital.
The session of Borj Erroumi was not the only one. In total there were six, each in a different prison, including the Sidi Hani Juvenile Reeducation Center. This is already the fourth edition of the Cartago festival, in which its program includes projections in prisons. All the chosen films were Arab – from Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon – in a contest in which only works from the African continent can participate. "Films with a series of values such as respect for others, dialogue, tolerance, etc., help in the process of reforming the prisoners and their integration," Sofian Mazguish, spokeswoman for the prison department, told a news conference. "The prisoners are also citizens and also have the right to culture, like the rest," added Najib Ayad, director of the festival.
Upon the arrival of the team PardonSome 150 inmates sat in a room decorated with posters from previous editions of the JCC. Most were young men, dressed in sports clothes and flip flops. A murmur of excitement ran through the room when one of the actors, Kamal Tauaty, famous in the country for his performances in movies and TV series, entered. The interpreter shared smiles, greetings and handshakes. Before starting the pass, the husband of the director, who died a few months earlier, and the actors of the film offered brief speeches, and the prison administration gave them several portraits painted by the prisoners.
Unlike what happens in the Tunisian movie theaters, silence dominated the room during the screening, only broken by a laugh of laughter and comments in the only sex scene of the film. Once finished, a round of questions and comments was opened. Half a dozen inmates took the floor to comment on the photograph, the feelings it provoked Pardon, the evolution of the characters or the social problems reflected in the work. In addition to the actors and the director of assembly, a social psychologist also participated in the debate. Separated from the rest by a narrow corridor, on the two sides of the enclosure, there were several rows of chairs reserved for the "guests", journalists and the film crew. In theory, his contact with the prisoners was not forbidden, but few reporters took the step.
"It's a very good initiative because it allows us to feel integrated into society," says Raduán, a beardless young man dressed in a sports suit. Barça The boy, who turns six years of grief, explained that a weekly film session is organized and that most of the films are Arab, many of Egyptian nationality. When asked about prison conditions, he complained about his overpopulation. Then, a plainclothes guard approached to listen ostentatiously to the conversation, which was cut short. Those responsible for Borj Erroumi they did not want to offer any figures on how many prisoners are staying in the prison, arguing that it is a "secret", perhaps because the Tunisian NGOs have denounced that the prisons are overflowing.