Fatma 75 1976
Selma Baccar | Tunisia 1976 | 1h | Arabic with English subtitles | 12 | DCP
Fatma 75 by Selma Baccar is a pioneering film: it is the first non-fiction film by a Tunisian woman, a feminist essay-film, and the first in a series of powerful films about strong female figures in the country. The film was made in the UN International Women's Year, 1975, and has long been recognised as one of the most important films from North Africa, but has never officially been seen before due to censorship. Curiously, it was only ever screened once, in the Netherlands. The ALC project restored and subtitled this rare gem, and made it available to its audiences for a long overdue UK premiere in Edinburgh! It has now screened on a dozen occasions around the globe, thanks to ALC's efforts to bring it into the festival network.
This film is part of AiM’s focus on Africa’s Lost Classics, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).
If you plan to organise a screening of Fatma 75, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Africa in Motion Film Festival | Filmhouse Edinburgh | 1 Nov 2017
Zanzibar International Film Festival, Stone Town, Tanzania: 10 July 2018
Melbourne International Film Festival, Australia: 12 August 2018
London Feminist Film Festival, UK: 16 Aug 2018
International Women’s Film Festival, Salé, Morocco: 24-29 Sept 2018
American Film Institute, AFI Silver, Washington, USA: 8 Nov 2018
Femspectives, Glasgow, Scotland: 18 Jan 2019
Watch Africa, Cardiff, Wales: 7 March 2019
Open Colour, Brighton, UK: tbc, April 2019
CLIP 1: This documentary-style footage shows a photo montage of women in the Tunisian women’s movement as well as an illustration of what happened at the time with young women, as Fatma speaks to her mother about her experiences at the protest rallies.
CLIP 2: This clip first shows a documentary-style photo montage about the controversial Tunisian Personal Status Law of the 1950s, as actresses illustrate these issues with a discussion on what they think their daughters should do: go to school or marry a rich husband. The sequence then goes into the controversial footage of a class on sexual education: according to the Ministry this sequence was the main reason for the film being banned in Tunisia.
CLIP 3: In this scene we see a mother talking to her daughter about her options and choices in life: should she stay in school or marry a rich man? The illustration afterwards shows the state of mind of the woman in her married life.
University student Fatma goes on a historical, feminist voyage and gathers interviews with iconic women from history. Fatma speaks to aristocratic women from the ancient past and contemporary revolutionaries involved in the struggle for Tunisian independence. Particular focus lies on developments from the 1930s to the 1950s, when Tunisian women were increasingly struggling for emancipation and the controversial Personal Status Law was passed, which aimed at the institutionalised equality of women and men. The innovative style of docu-fiction allows director Selma Baccar to present a fictional narrative element interspersed with actual interview footage, re-enactments of historical circumstances and archival material. Didactic and instructive in its tone, the film has gained mythical status, certainly aided by its rarity and unavailability for screenings.
Selma Baccar (*1943) is a pioneer of Tunisian cinema and television. Like many other filmmakers from Tunisia, Baccar studied abroad at the French Institute of Cinema, but she was one of the few female directors who returned to Tunis when her studies had finished. She concentrated on Tunisian television and on producing documentaries and women’s films. Together with her cine-club peers, Najer Maabouj, Saadia Guellala and Sabah Fattah, she worked on several anti-establishment productions. Fatma 75 was Baccar’s first feature-length docu-fiction and the first feature film directed by a woman in post-independence Tunisia. Even though the film was banned from screenings in Tunisia until 2006, it received international acclaim and Baccar’s work continues to be lauded at film festivals today. Baccar has been an inherent part of the transition Tunisia has undergone since 2011: she sat on the Assemblee Constituante as one of the team who rewrote the Tunisian constitution. Her political and cultural influence reaches wider than ever.
Historical & cultural context
Despite being funded by the Tunisian government, Fatma 75 was censored and subsequently banned from screenings in the country for thirty years. Officially, the censorship occurred because of the depiction of an explicit sexual education lesson, although it is more likely that the film was banned because of its politicised voice-over and indirect critique of propagandistic policies. Early African films after independence often served the purpose of supporting a coherent national identity. As a consequence of this cultural nationalism cinema became an important tool of national propaganda for many of these fledgling states. Many filmmakers, however, felt the need to address the reality of both colonial oppression and post-colonial propaganda. This New Arab Cinema marked an aesthetic movement towards cinematic realism and a thematic impulse towards issues that combated the state rhetoric and narrative. At the same time, filmmakers were inspired by the Third Cinema Manifesto, which promoted guerrilla filmmaking practices which rebelled against any form of oppression, including Hollywood cinema and neo-colonial relationships in the newly independent nations. This shift opened up opportunities for women directors who, despite their previous influence, had been marginalised since the 1950s by nationalised cinemas as well as the dominant Egyptian melodrama production. Taking on the new forms of realism and documentary filmmaking, women filmmakers re-energised their position behind the camera and brought women’s issues to the fore. In North Africa, the Tunisian film industry is recognised as one of the most liberal in the Arab world. Women have taken on a prominent role in cinema in Tunisia from the very beginning, and Selma Baccar has been an active part of this since the 1960s.
Feminism has been a recurring theme in Tunisian society, more so than in other Maghreb nations. For example, in 1956, the government under prime minister Habib Bourguiba passed the Personal Status Law, a progressive law aimed at the institutionalised equality between women and men in a number of areas. Baccar’s film however uncovers the ambiguity of this law, and criticised its lack of effectiveness on women’s daily lives. The film shows that even in progressive Tunisia there is a lot of space for improvement – a message that does not sit well with the liberal national identity promoted by the state.
Fatma 75 is openly feminist, addressing the historical context of women's ongoing activism. In an interview with Wassyla Tamzali, Selma Baccar says that:
My film is aimed at women, in particular the Tunisian ones. I hope that this film will be shown to those who do not usually go to the cinema, leaving the traditional circuit. I’m sure that there will be undoubtedly some of them that will be against the film. […] In general there is no dialogue between those who are conscious and those who are not aware. (Baccar in Tamzali 1979: 54)
Unfortunately, Tunisian women had to wait until 2006 to see Baccar’s film. However, in the late 1970s the film was secretly taken abroad and screened at a women’s film festival in the Netherlands, which explains why many of the film’s clandestinely distributed copies have Dutch subtitles.
As a filmmaker Baccar holds a privileged position within the Tunisian women’s movement. She is an educated intellectual, a woman who has studied abroad and gained a transnational perspective on her own country and culture. Yet, Fatma 75 aims to represent women from across Tunisia’s history and society, particularly those who have traditionally had no voice. In the film Baccar doesn’t claim to be one of these women without a voice, but rather acknowledges her own privileged position. She portrays outspoken women from history and features interviews with exceptional women from the countryside as well as from working class backgrounds. She weaves together their and her own viewpoints and combines them with illustrations of women’s inequality in reality and passages on equality from the Qur’an.
For its inclusion in the African Lost Classics programme, the film has been fully restored and new English subtitles have been created so that the film can reach an ever broader audience in the future. This is the first time it is shown in the UK.
Mejri, Ouissal: ‘Tunisia.’ Nelmes, Jill and Jule Selbo (Eds.): Women Screenwriters. An International Guide. New York: Palgrave Macmillan: 2015, 45-52.
Tamzali, Wassyla: En attendant Omar Gatlato. Algiers: Editions EnAP 1979.
Van de Peer, Stefanie: ‘Forgotten Women, Lost Histories: Selma Baccar’s Fatma 75 (1978) and Assia Djebar’s La Nouba des femmes du Mont Chenoua (1978).’ Bisschoff, Lizelle and David Murphy (Eds.): Africa’s Lost Classics. New Histories of African Cinema. Leeds: Legenda 2014, 64-71.
Van de Peer, Stefanie: ‘Selma Baccar’s Fatma 1975: At the Crossroads between Third Cinema and New Arab Cinema.’ French Forum, Vol 35, No 2-3, Spring/Fall 2010: 17-35.