Kaouther Ben Hania


For Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, the journey into filmmaking began with a fascination with storytelling and a fortuitous encounter with amateur Cinema during her university years. What started as an enchantment swiftly burgeoned into a lasting passion, leading Ben Hania to leave behind a business school education to pursue the art of filmmaking. “It was like a virus. I decided to do this as a job and I wanted to change everything to do this,” she tells Fade to Her.

Reflecting on the transformation of Tunisian Cinema since her foray into the film industry, she notes a shift from a stilted atmosphere under the dictatorship to an effervescence of creativity and freedom post-revolution. Despite the challenges of limited resources, Tunisian Cinema has experienced quite the resurgence, showcasing a diverse assortment of stories that enchant both domestic and international audiences. “In the 90s we had a very vibrant Cinema and then, it became less interesting. At the end of the dictatorship, Cinema became more and more consolidated, and since there was no censorships, my generation came and we started making movies that are about freedom,” Ben Hania recounts.

One such riveting film is Ben Hania’s own Four Daughters, a stirring exploration of grief, motherhood, and the intricate interplay of the personal and the political. Stemming from a chance encounter with a mother’s interview, the film took Ben Hania on a five-year journey to craft a film that transcends traditional documentary boundaries. By seamlessly blending real-life subjects with actors, Ben Hania descends into the depths of memory and trauma, producing a multi-layered cinematic experience that challenges conventional storytelling norms and shies away from re-enactment, “Alfred Hitchcock said that it’s better to start with a cliché than to adapt one, so I told myself to take this cliché and start from there, and then use it to question also those memories,” she explains.

Central to Four Daughters is the exploration of female experiences, particularly the societal norms, pressures and violence inflicted upon young girls. Ben Hania sheds a light on the surreptitious nature of these expectations, underlying the detrimental role mothers play in keeping harmful narratives that erode the self-worth of their daughters alive. Through her lens, Ben Hania amplifies the voices of marginalized women, asking audiences to face the complexities of gender dynamics in Tunisian society and beyond. “I think that there is a kind of hidden accusation about young. They are obliged from a very young age to say no, and not become like this to defend themselves from an accusation that has no foundation. I find this idea of very violent towards young girls. This was one of the aspects that attracted me to tell this story because this is something that many girls all over the world can experience and can understand that it’s a big violence for a teenager girl,” she claims.

Beyond her individual projects, Ben Hania reflects on the ever-changing landscape of filmmaking in an age dominated by social media and short attention spans. With the rise of various platforms and serialized content, filmmakers face new challenges in capturing audience attention and delivering compelling narratives. Despite these emerging obstacles, she remains dogged in her commitment to storytelling, making the most of her diverse background in both documentary and fiction in order to push even more the boundaries of cinematic expression. “In the previous century, Cinema was King. It was the most popular art. Now, things are changing drastically with the Internet, Tik Tok, and social media. Everybody wants those two eyes. So, Cinema is competing with so many videos of cats, Tik Tok and the shortened attention span. So, this is something very challenging for us filmmakers. Masterpieces like those from the previous century, like Tarkovsky’s films, it’s impossible to make them today because the attention is so short; people can’t watch a shot like that and take the time to appreciate the beauty of it today. Now, you have to be aware that you have to capture their attention otherwise or else nobody would see your film, which is a new kind of challenge. That’s why series are so popular. They know this,” Ben Hania laments.

As one of Tunisia’s most celebrated filmmakers, Ben Hania has garnered international recognition, including an Oscar nomination—a testament to the global appeal of Tunisian Cinema. Embracing her identity as a female, Muslim filmmaker, she champions diversity in an industry avid of fresh perspectives. “This is the ambition of any filmmaker; we make films to be seen all over the world. So, to be nominated for an Oscar, this was huge for Tunisia because it was the first time that it happened. Also, I do have to add another layer – you are a female, which is also gives another sort of magnetism as opposed to a male. Not white, but Muslim. Every box is ticked. I received a lot of attention because they are looking for a profile like mine for diversity. And so, I received a lot of proposals to direct a lot of projects while I was preparing the shoot of Four Daughters,” she recalls.

Looking ahead, Ben Hania remains optimistic about the future of Tunisian Cinema and its role on the global stage. With projects in the pipeline and collaborations that cross borders, she continues to break barriers, cementing her legacy as a trailblazer both in her native Tunisia and abroad.



Photo credits: Courtesy of IMDb.

This interview was conducted at the 2023 European Film Awards.

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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