Pioneering Tunisian film maker Ben Ammar dies aged 79


Tunisian film maker and producer Abdellatif Ben Ammar died February 6 in Tunis at the age of 79.

Ben Ammar, recognised as a pioneer and a founding father of Tunisian film making, began with higher studies in mathematics at Lycée Alaoui before turning to cinema.

It was in Paris at the IDHEC, the Institute for Advanced Film Studies, currently FEMIS, that he studied. He contributed to national and international productions before working on his own films.

Following the news of his death, the Tunisian ministry of culture regretted “the loss of a great figure of Tunisian cinema.”

Actress Sawssen Maalej, commented, “Huge sadness … Peace to your soul dear Abdellatif Ben Ammar. Tender thoughts to his sweet half, Sabeh Kastalli, as well as his small and big family of the Tunisian cinema.”

Ben Ammar, born on April 25, 1945 in the capital Tunis, managed to obtain a scholarship that enabled to study in Paris. Before his departure to France, the Minister of Culture at the time, Chedli Klibi, reportedly told him: “I expect a lot from you.”

When he came back to Tunisia in 1965, he produced the news reel at the time broadcast in cinemas before each movie. This experience allowed him to visit different regions across Tunisia and rub shoulders with locals, in a way that made him increasingly aware of people’s concerns following the country’s independence.

In his early days, Ben Ammar worked with several Tunisian and international directors.

Ben Ammar, a modernist, contributed to films such as Otobre 65 by Hassen Daldoul (1965) and Confession of a Cannibal by Moncef Ben Mrad (1973). Between 1966 and 1973, he worked as an assistant cameraman in movies such as Les Aventuriers by Robert Enrico and Indomptable Angélique by Bernard Borderie.

He was able to assist several great film makers, such as Larry Buchanan on The Rebel Jesus, Roberto Rossellini on Il Messia and Claude Chabrol on Les Magiciens.

In Jesus de Nasareth by Franco Zeffirelli, he worked as production manager.

Among Ben Ammar’s short features are “2 + 2 = 5” co-directed with Hassen Daldoul and Mustapha Fersi (1966), Mastermind and Operation Eyes (1967) and L’Espérance (1968). His filmography includes several features and short films of which he was the producer.

His first feature, A Simple Story, was chosen for screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1970, which allowed Tunisia to be present for the first time in the official selection. Then, he resumed the production of shorts including “In the footsteps of Baal (1970), Mosques of Kairouan (1973) and Metamorphoses (1977).

His second film Sejnane (1973), largely recognised as one of the 100 best films in the history of Arab cinema, won the special jury prize at the Fespaco in Ouagadougou in 1976.

Arab Weekly/Agencies


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