The Tunisian revolution of 2011 has had a profound effect on the country’s film industry and cinema. After a steep decline, during the last decade of the reign of Zine El-abidine Ben Ali, who was Tunisian president until 2011, the sector has quickly emerged as a strategic source of cultural, social and economic development.
Whilst movies have been filmed in Tunisia since 1919, in 1927, the first Tunisian film distribution company, Tunis-Film, started its activities. After independence, movies were exclusively produced by Société Anonyme Tunisienne de Production et d'Expansion Cinématographique (SATPEC) which controlled cinema and filming productions in the country. Nevertheless, during the 1980s, private production companies and studios emerged and wanted to make Tunisia the Mediterranean Hollywood. Tunisian producer Tarak Ben Ammar, succeeded in attracting foreign production companies including Roman Polanski's Pirates and Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth. After visiting Tunisia, George Lucas was seduced by the natural beauty and the southern Tunisian towns where he filmed important scenes for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Moreover, Anthony Minghella filmed the Academy Awards winner The English Patient in the country.
Domestic productions were rare; the few movies which were produced since 1967 tried to reflect the new social dynamics, development, identity research, and modernity shock. Tunisia’s film industry collapsed in the early 90s, after Ben Ali’s decision to transfer the ownership of the national ‘Tunisian Society for Film Production and Expansion’ to a private monopoly. Numerous cinemas were shut down. The monopoly was broken up in 2011, during the revolution. Since then, local cinema clubs have arisen and the number of production companies has increased rapidly. Film and documentary makers have quickly taken over the new public space that was created by the hard-won right of freedom of expression. A variety of documentaries and films have become possible to make now that people are no longer afraid to talk. Documentary makers have explored profound problems of Tunisian society, such as internalized colonial oppression and fossilised social structures that block youth´s access to society. The film The Last of Us (2016), considered as characteristic for the new experimental approach of the next generation Tunisian filmmakers, is a magic story about an immigrant’s voyage to Europe. The film, made by director Ala Eddine Slim, was selected to represent Tunisia as best foreign-language film at the 90th Academy awards in 2018, but was eventually not nominated.