how the country’s central role in the history of cinema could attract a new wave of tourism


Tunisia’s place in the history of cinema is little known. However, the North African country can convincingly claim to have played a pivotal role in many of the cinema’s best-known productions. Over the years, Tunisia has become ancient Rome, Egypt of the 1930s, and even a small planet far, far away.

Today, after many years of neglect, the country’s Ministry of Tourism, supported by the German international cooperation agency Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (Giz), will open many of these venues to a new generation of moviegoers, once the pandemic will have passed.

Overall, the locations of the Star wars movie theater, The Life of Brian of the Monty Python, The Lost Legion, The English patient, The Raiders of the Lost Ark and Black gold are targeted.

Some, like those of the The English patient and Star wars, partially overlap. Others, like those of Brian’s life are as unique as their premise. However, all, to varying degrees, were affected by the economic downfall that sparked the Tunisian revolution and the political and financial turmoil that followed.

While the project, dubbed Cinematographic Routes, remains under development, the hope is that private operators will be able to transport visitors to sites from nearby tourist resorts or take the actual engaged on individual tours of the city. ‘between them. Many, like Kairouan’s medina, remain largely unchanged since Steven Spielberg shot his 1981 classic. The Raiders of the Lost Ark the. While this lack of architectural development has made it possible instead to convincingly duplicate Cairo, it can be confusing to visiting moviegoers that few in the Tunisian city have heard of the film, or are all likely to understand the passions it holds. ‘he inspires.

If Cinematic Routes pays off, however, it promises even bigger dividends, with extras and behind-the-scenes engineers from the original films also available to speak to visitors throughout production. An extra I met, Ezzedinemlik (Azziz), worked on The Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star wars, on which he says he was asked to dress “like a cow”. People like Azziz, like other extras, construction professionals and scouts, can be found all over Tunisia, and all are eager to tell their stories.

For anyone who really wants to explore Tunisia’s rich cinematic heritage, Tozeur is the place to visit. It is here that three of the most famous films in the world meet, in particular at the Canyon of Sidi Bouhlel, not far from the city of the desert. It is within these spectacular sandstone walls that several scenes from the original Star wars were shot, as well as The Raiders of the Lost Ark and The English patient, which were all filmed in the same 500 meters of canyon.

Nearby stands the unique desert formation of Ong Jemel, or the Camel Pass, a short stretch of elevated sand that rises above the vast expanses of salt that lay in The English patient and the Star wars prequels. Further in the salt marshes, or the Chott el Djerid, are the voids Star wars sets from the first of the previous films, which were largely left to the care of trinket sellers and souvenir hawkers. Elsewhere, practically lost in the endless horizons of Chott el Djerid, is the small fiberglass igloo that served as the exterior of Luke Skywalker’s house in Tataouine. Be warned, it can be difficult to find it on your own, but it is a guaranteed stop on any movie tour.

The interior of this house is about three hours south, in Matmata. It is here that the traditional Amazigh cave houses made up the interior of Lars’ farm. The current ensemble remains largely intact and, before the pandemic, continued to fend for itself as a hotel – the Sidi Driss.

Its manager, Massoud Ben Rached, still maintains the property and its distinctive accessories that featured in the prequels, which dominate the main courtyard of the property. However, the hotel has been largely closed for business since the pandemic hit.

“We were contacted by Giz about a month ago,” he says. The National. “They said they were going to help us, so we hope things get better. They said they were going to help us fix the broken set and everything. I hope they help us change it with it. a new one. We want to take care of the hotel, but you know things aren’t that easy … Money issues and everything. “

Thanks to the film route, tourists will be drawn to places they might never have visited otherwise, also in remote areas of Tunisia ”

Traveling north along Tunisia’s beautiful Mediterranean coast takes you to Monastir – unrecognizable now since appearing in the 1979 film The Life of Brian of the Monty Python – where the town’s distinctive Ribat turned into a center of Roman classicism, and where Brian Cohen, we are told, was a very naughty boy.

Further north is Nabeul, where part of the 2007s The last legion was filmed, just like the one in 2011 Black gold. And not too far away is the capital, Tunis. Here, if you want, you can search for the Roman theater where Brian found himself selling larks’ tongues, cave livers, and finch brains to the crowds who watched the gladiators fight. Nearby, although not directly linked to a film (but it would be a shame not to go), stand the Roman ruins of the Baths of Antoninus, as well as ancient Carthage.

The Cinematographic Routes project, which combines funding from several organizations, hopes to create up to 1,000 new jobs and move Tunisian tourism away from the sprawling resort hotels on which it has traditionally relied.

“Thanks to the film route, tourists will be drawn to places they might never have visited otherwise, also in remote areas of Tunisia,” explains Jose Frohling, who works with the project to promote the film. sustainable tourism of Giz in Tunisia. “Giz will support the local population and Tunisian businesses to create tourism offers. “

Frohling describes how the routes would connect tourists to places and offers advice on how best to reach them. From there, Giz hopes to partner with local communities, municipalities and the private sector to develop ideas on how best to manage and promote the sites.

“Giz will support site owners and other partners in preserving and renovating natural and cultural sites,” Frohling said. “From the outset, we cooperate with all public and non-governmental actors as well as with the private sector, in order to anchor capacity locally. In this way, we ensure that the roads create long term economic benefit for the local communities in these areas. “

Sadly, since its 2011 revolution and the rise of Morocco as a North African destination for directors seeking to capture distant views of the Middle East with all the amenities of the 21st century, the Tunisian star has declined somewhat. As film production continues, many of those who have been employed in some of the most famous films have had to find work elsewhere.

For them, as well as for the hotels, restaurants and cafes near the sites planned for the development, the opening of the sites will provide a much needed lifeline. And for those who claim to be interested in the history of modern cinema, this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Take the trip. The force is strong there.

About Wesley V. Finley

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