Cultural Initiatives in North Africa and the Middle East
One of KLF’s 2016 grants came to fruition recently with the release of ‘Aya’ – a short film by Moufida Fedhila currently touring the film festival circuit. We spoke with the filmmaker and artist about the journey that resulted in a gem of cinematic storytelling…
Though firmly set within a Tunisian context and inspired by the director’s nuanced view on seeming cultural set-backs over recent years, ‘Aya’ has a universal core. The delicate story of a young Muslim girl full of inquisitive rigour trying to make sense of the contradictive nature of religion resonates with anyone who has ever had to answer a child’s deluge of “why”, “why”, “but why”.
“Childhood is very important to me, because during it we allow ourselves to ask all the questions and in that it is related to philosophy, which I studied and which says that we cannot go into the world if we do not ask questions. The world itself is a source of inspiration to react to, ask questions about and exist in. As an artist one is always in search, as the purpose of art is to reveal to us our present.”
In the case of Aya, what is revealed is the slow slippage into a less secular and more conservative way of life in some pockets of Tunisian society over recent years. The young girl attends Koran school where she frequently gets in trouble for questioning god’s ways with the logic of a six-year-old. Eventually she decides to take matters into her own hands by promising to be good and to not play with her best friend who is a boy if only God helps her grow faster so she can meet him (for her father has explained to her that once she is an adult woman she will have to wear a niqab, which in turn will allow her to see God). The harder she tries, the more ridicule comes her way.
As this very immediate hurt takes shape and Aya gets bullied by her peers, we see the story of her surrounding unfold, even if she herself is oblivious to it. We witness the local religious’ leaders exert pressure on the girl’s family and see her mother’s struggle with her own subordinate and demure role. As Aya is trying to make sense of the world around her, we witness her mother starting to resist the strict rules applied to her, her dress and public demeanour. In looking out for her daughter she starts drawing strength to begin breaking free herself.
These are big topics, which Moufida Fedhila manages to treat with complex care that shows the multi-layered aspects to any story taking place within grand narratives. “I wanted to create a poetic response to a political story, and so the only medium able to handle the dramatic weight of the story, but also reach a large audience was film,” she says, “I wanted to question the indoctrination of children that is still happening in Tunisia, even when we have the impression that it no longer exists. The story of Aya is relevant as it could take place anywhere at any given point. But the film also shows how kids can make us evolve and see things differently. ”
The character of young Aya then is a symbol for the kind of artist Moufida Fedhila sees herself as, one that is in constant conversation with the current socio-political situation to reveal contradictions, engage in sense-making through the constant questioning and ultimately bring about change. Or as Fedhila herself puts it: “I cannot wait to show the film in the region to create a dialogue with the public. I believe that art should be used for pushing dialogue, confronting ideas and changing attitudes. In Tunisia we are on the right track, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
If you get a chance to see the film, we strongly recommend you do and we look forward to continue witnessing Aya’s journey.
Golden Tanit for Best Short Film - Carthage Film Festival
Audience Award for Best Fiction - Festival du Film Franco-arabe, Noisy-le-Sec
Official Selections : January & February
Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, France
Flickerfest International Short Film Festival, Australia
Maghreb, Si loin, Si proche, Argelès/mer, France
Regards sur le Cinéma du Monde, Normandie
Carthage Film Festival_Official Competition, Tunisia
Rome MedFilm Festival, Italy
Festival Tous Courts, Aix-en-Province, France
Festival du Film Franco-arabe, Noisy-le-Sec, France
Festival des Cinémas d’Afrique du Pays d’Apt, France
AFLAM, Rencontres Internationales des Cinémas Arabes, France