A group of children focused their attention on the screen as a weekly movie screening began at Douar Hicher, a municipality in the Tunisian governorate of Manouba. As soon as the credits rolled, a lively debate about the movie began.
Douar Hicher’s Cinema Club for Children is one of many activities organised by the Tunisian Federation of Film Clubs (FTCC), which aims to introduce cinema to children in underprivileged neighbourhoods.
Nadhem Bchini, president of the children’s cinema club, said that it was one of the only cultural programmes for children in the area.
“Over the past years, the children’s cinema club moved from Le Bardo to Boustil before we settled in Douar Hicher. The cinema club has also expanded to the surrounding regions,” Bchini said. “It is the product of the dream we had to set something for children.”
The group has put on various cultural events, such as “Cinema is Coming,” a festival that features movie screenings and debates in various neighbourhoods. Another initiative, “The Screen of Schools,” took movie screenings and discussions inside classrooms.
“We introduced children to the language of cinema, to the ideas of debating,” Bchini said. “For many, this was their introduction to the world of cinema as they never watched a movie on the big screen.”
In their latest initiative, “Cinema is in our Neighbourhood,” a mobile caravan travelled to underprivileged areas to screen films.
“Instead of having children come to the cultural centres, the idea was to take movies to them by screening films for children in the public space in their neighbourhoods,” Bchini said.
“It expanded to other towns and involved all residents of the neighbourhoods. In a way, the cinema clubs for children contributed on a regular basis to the attendees and members of the clubs but also launched other events to expand the radius of their engagement.”
The FTCC has organised an annual workshop at the International Amateur Film Festival of Kelibia. The initiative, titled “Little Hands,” includes daily workshops that conclude with an original film written and produced by children. The film is screened at the festival closing ceremony for thousands of attendees and international film-makers.
“The goal was to educate children on the art of cinema,” Bchini said. “Little by little we held more workshops to teach children the language of cinema.”
Bchini emphasised that the films are entirely the children’s work. They are involved in every part of the process, he said, from writing the script to filming the movie.
For some of the children, the “Little Hands” workshop is a highlight of their year.
“I have been going to the festival for years now but I have been attending the workshop for four years,” said Sabaa Ta’mallah. “When we started this year, we decided to work on the idea of recycling. It is important to recycle to protect our country and keep it clean. We used origami to convey this idea, which is that we can reuse our garbage. I want to continue this, making films.”
Bchini praised the children’s ability to learn and get involved in cinema.
“It was fascinating and surprising to hear the children’s remarks and opinions about the movies,” he explained. “Sometimes you would not even expect their questions. It is amazing how, at that young age, they are interested in learning about everything including the details of the film.
“They have creativity and wit. They focus and ask smart questions and there is a great response and interaction.”
Bchini said he hopes the initiatives will help children revive cinema in Tunisia and bring a new perspective.
“The idea is to help rise this generation who will be the leaders of the cultural scene and animators of these film societies in the future,” Bchini said.
Roua Khlifi a regular Travel and Culture contributor in Tunis.