As the pioneer of female Tunisian filmmakers, Selma Baccar has first and foremost also answered back to men’s representations of women in her own films. From The Awakening (1966) to Fatma 75 (1975), The Dance of Fire (1995) to Flower of Oblivion (2006), the historical detail, contemporary relevance and concern with women in a much wider context have gained her the reputation of the “grande dame” of Tunisian cinema: a feminist activist. Selma Baccar: “As an activist for women’s rights, I have always felt that women are the cornerstone of society in general, and as a child of the age of protests in the 1960s I felt that I could be not only a spokesperson for the Tunisian woman but also an informer and critic of the contemporary atmosphere in Tunisia.”
Selma Baccar’s film opens with a series of portraits of women who have marked the history of Tunisia through the ages. In a theatrical way, Sophonisba, Kahina, Jelajil, and Aziza present themselves to us as the predecessors, through their courageous actions, of this young girl, Fatma, in 1975.
Farida Ayari, Férid Boughedir, Guy Hennebelle, 1981
“The International Women’s Year provided me with the opportunity to make it [Fatma 75]. I figured that, for the first Tunisian film entirely devoted to this subject, I must not resort to fiction but make an analytical work. Through this film, I set about demystifying what is called ‘the miracle of Tunisian women’s emancipation’.”
Fatma 75’s approach is quite original. The film is based on essays and histories written on the Tunisian feminist movement, using fiction to make its message accessible to the general public. Selma baccar: “As for my experience as a woman director, I think it was very important for me. My relationship with the crew and the actors was excellent. The shooting of Fatma 75 was “all roses”. On the other hand, in order to obtain the necessary funding for the production of the film, I felt a great mistrust from some of the people in charge, although I had a special card up my sleeve: a film about women made by a woman. But the problem of film production in Tunisia is the same for men and women: it’s negative for both of them.”
“Given this situation, the three of us – a filmmaker, a critic and a technician in the Arab cinema – have decided to establish an ‘Assistance Fund’ for the self-expression of the Arab woman in the cinema. A yearly prize of 10,000 ff (about $2500) will be awarded to the best script for a short film from those proposals submitted by Arab women undertaking their first film.”