Kaouther Ben Hania: Pioneering Tunisian filmmaker lands second Oscar nomination
Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania has made history for Arab women filmmakers after securing her second Oscar nomination on Tuesday.
Ben Hania, 46, saw her latest film – the docu-fiction hybrid 'Four Daughters' – nominated for Best Documentary Feature Film at the 2024 Academy Awards.
The nomination marked the first time an Arab woman filmmaker had earned two Oscar nods, after her film 'The Man Who Sold His Skin' was nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 awards.
Other Arab women directors nominated for Oscars in previous years include Palestinian filmmaker Farah Nabulsi, whose film 'The Present' was also nominated in 2021 in the Best Short Film category, and Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, who was nominated for Best International Feature Film in 2019 for 'Capernaum'.
Ben Hania's 'Four Daughters', released in France in July 2023, is a documentary film that follows the family of a Tunisian mother named Olfa Hamrouni, whose two eldest daughters – Rahma and Ghofrane – run away from home to join an extremist group in Libya.
Speaking to The New Arab in 2023 at the Cannes Film Festival premiere of Four Daughters, Ben Hania said: "You have so many doubts, and there are days when I say to myself, this is all rubbish, I shouldn't have made this film. It's long. It’s stressful. And then comes the good news... so you take it."
Her success is also a testament to the recent wave of Tunisian cinema in the post-revolution years, especially after last year’s edition of the Cannes festival saw several Tunisian films by young directors receive wide acclaim.
Along with Kaouther Ben Hania, Tunisian filmmakers like Ala Eddine Slim, Walid Mattar, Abdelhamid Bouchnak, Mehdi M. Barsaoui, Erige Sehiri, Youssef Chebbi, and Mohamed Ben Attia, who are mostly in their forties, represent a new generation of filmmaking talents freed by the "Jasmine Revolution".
A lack of public funds in Tunisia for the cultural sector means that Tunisian filmmakers still rely on countries like France, Germany, or Saudi Arabia to produce films.
But according to Ben Hania – who grew up in Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the 2010-2011 revolution – a new creative energy and freedom of thought persists among Tunisian filmmakers.
"Of course [we can speak about a new wave of cinema in Tunisia], because there's no longer any censorship, and that changes everything. In other words, we're able to make poignant films that are in touch with reality," she told The New Arab last year.
"Reality is not confiscated by the dictatorship, so we're trying to reclaim the streets, reclaim our stories, and our imaginations too, and that's very important."