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L'Expression - The South, Hollywood of the Maghreb

Original article published by L'Expression in French at http://www.lexpression.com.tn/details_recherche.php?ID_art=1834

The South, Hollywood of the Maghreb

Every time that I return to my town, Nefta, the small Koufa, I remember the beautiful poem of Joachim Of The Bellay that I memorized under the wing of my French teacher: "Happy that as Ulysse returns from a long journey" and the one of Mahmoud Darwich in the film forward for the Fools of Tawfiq Salah: "My father had said one day, the one that has not any homeland, has not the right to a burial and it gave me to stop traveling". But when I see what the cinema made there I become disenchanted.

Each time I come back in my village, I rediscover it, beautiful as a sin, with its palm grove in decadence and its young people in waiting for the arrival of the shooting of a foreign film instead of caring for the palm trees. Its vernacular architecture happily supported by the Ministry of Tourism to restore the walls of its Medina. Here they would like to establish a statue to Sid Ahmed Smaoui who defended tooth and nails the South, Djérid and the ventures succeeded well of Saharan tourism.

Each time I come back in my village, I rewind the film of memories and I remember my astonishment when I was young in front of these tourists and the trigger of their cameras, these people who arrive with their devices, their cameras to film my country as the Gypsies in "Hundred years of Solitude" of Marquez who rob villagers against magnets and mirrors.

The biggest studios in the open of Tunisia

And then Nefta and Tozeur became the biggest studios of North Africa when Tarak Ben Ammar directed Cartago Films.

Dozens of series of Tunisian films were turned here: The Stories of Laroui, both films of Naceur Khmir: "The Desert Buoy-Layers" and "The Lost Necklace of the Dove", "Words of Men" by Moez Kamoun, "No Mans Land" by Nidahl Chatta and films by Tayeb Louhichi, by Abdellatif Ben Ammar, by Khaled Ghorbal, by Nacer Ktari and the list is long next to the dozens short films.

One day, at the end of the seventies, Tarak ben Ammar had persuaded two American film-makers of Hollywood to come to visit this immense studio in the open that is Tunisia. They were called Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, a duo that changed worldwide cinema in the early eighties. When the one turns the other produces. They fell in love with Tunisia and the planet on which Star Wars takes place was called the planet Tatooine. Stranger, in an interview in the Barber Magazine, Spielberg asserts that, on the filming of star Wars leaving Nefta to Tataouine and by crossing Chott, in August, he saw E.T ., his famous figure down in the mirages. That's how E.T. is born in Jarid. Star Wars ended, its success broke all box office records in the history of worldwide cinema. The best stages were filmed in Matmata, Tataouine and Nefta. Star Wars II, III, IV etc followed. In 1980 the first episode of The Raiders of the Lost Ark was shot in Nefta and the inhabitants still remember pitiless chase across the palm grove in a 1930's Mercedes and a coffin which was only the lost Ark that contained the relics of the Ten Commandments hidden by Moses and which, as it is said, will assure the one who finds them to win any war. Happily that Bush did not fall on the godsend!

Rossellini and its Jesus, Henri Verneuil and his autobiography followed when it restored his native Turkey with Nefta. An American company restored Halabja in Nefta for a film entitled "Between the Two Rivers" by Saddam Hussein. The performance of service that Sindbad produced by Moez Kamoun had lavished on him as well as for other dozens films, television series and the reports on the palm tree, the desert and the reconstitution of Egypt, Arabia, and Iraq. The famous Discovery channel came to reconstitute part of the life from Saladin and a film on the pyramids which required large decorations in Tameghza.

Which godsend? But the real question is what advantage will this godsend be to the region and its inhabitants?

When one was young, therefore bold, we the oasiens, when the swarms of locusts invaded our palm grove, we drove them out with the blow of noise and smokes. They escape towards the door of the desert, where the Saharan tamarisks and grasses still gave them something to graze. We followed them to pick them up by the dozen, because we ate the locusts. Besides at the end of the fifties, one knew the agony of a dozen young hunters of locusts shot by the French army and from which memory occupies the name of a street, but the parents were never compensated.

In 14 Km north of Nefta at the edge of Chott el Gharsa, Jules Verne made a stop for his escaped hero of the prison of Gabes in his famous book "Invasion of the Sea". This strange and nice novel on the Utopia of a certain Roudaire which wanted to transform the Chott du Djerid into an internal sea by planning to dig a channel from Gulf of Gabes. There between chott and desert is a strange site where we dispelled locusts, an ecological marvel of the most amazing: A chot, mounds of earth in the form of a camel, where from the name of Ong Jmal (the neck of the camel) and a stream of dunes and dunettes, some more immaculate than others, ones more beautiful than the others, with this curly sand whose undulations resemble the anatomies of the more beautiful women stripped with the cinema. The dunes form an excellent amphitheater.

One day, the producer of the film "The English Patient" sought a desert to reconstruct the scenes of history which took place in the deserts of Egypt and Libya at the time of the last war. He falls in love with this site which we call Iriguet, dunettes, haven of the camel drivers and the shepherds of the famous wandering tribe of Ghrib and Ong Jmal. There were no roads, and the car that was rented struggled to arrive there. Being afraid to pay enormous money for the insurance of its actors and to transport the material and the decoration, he asked the service provider how much it would cost to open a reinforced track. 120.000 dinars was the answer. Agreed. The following day, the machines cleared a track of Tozeur to Irigat. Since and after the shooting of the famous film, the site became a favorite for those who want to make the baptism of the desert and those which prepare for Paris-Dakar. And the 4x4, these mechanical brides begin to scar the desert, but fortunately the wind is there. Desert is never unscathed, because the plastic bags and bottles, the tires and jerry cans are strewn over a nature which was never hurt by the civilization of consumption and exoticism. The herds of dromedaries moved away.

Star Wars abandons its decoration

Some years afterwards the team of star Wars tries again for one of the last episodes through CTV, aimed by the nice producer Abdelaziz Ben Mlouka, then working in tandem with the interior decorator, Tayeb Jallouli, hereafter international and among whom talent, workmanship and seriousness are confirmed. A Tupolev, the biggest freighter of the world lands in the airport Nefta-Tozeur off-loading thousands of tonnes of the remains of planes, thousand plastic tubes, of funds of bankrupt hardware stores, of waste of garages and of refuse of distributors of electrical and health equipment of that could contaminate a planet. And there the planet was reconstructed to lodge the participants of Star Wars. Finished shooting, the waste repurchased by a tradesman of the area which made its reputation by reselling them to the tourists and his boutique is always called star Wars. The site was left in its own fate because the contractor of service paid during two years a security guard, but was not able to hold out. The guides and agencies found a bonanza in the track and the site, and caravans of 4X4 come each day to enjoy the wilderness to tourists in search of exoticism and the Sahara to visit the scenery of the most famous film in history. But if the site and the region make some families live, the dunes undergo daily rapes when the carefree drivers climb the dunes and then run down with great speed leaving injuries, especially in the winter that can heal only the winds of the spring. This is the most unusual insult to the nature and to the desert.

Moreover, the agencies brought tourists, especially when a new shorter track (14 km) was open between Nefta and the site replaced the route of 35 km leaving Tozeur. The Tunisian rediscovering familiar places during school holidays in the flow of visitors.

The decoration falls in ruins, overgrown by waste, they there just eradicated from the hundreds of bags of plastic bottles; they tear off pieces of plaster as relics memories. The inhabitants of the region have repeatedly reminded the authorities that this site is protected. For nothing. It is only after a complaint to the president of the Republic during his last visit in Jarid that order was given, having understood the issue and the challenge of this project.

Today, the settings are being restored by their own builder, Tayeb Jallouli, with the same workers. We went to visit the work-site and here are the pictures.

But one does not know yet how this site will be managed whose restoration will cost 240 Thousand Dinars, money of the taxpayers. Not paying paying? Nobody knows. Simplest is to rent the site to a young contractor of the area with specifications and to create, a coffee, toilets, to assign guards without destroying the site, while building underground for example, thus the entries will ensure a maintenance and guards who will prevent the famous mechanical camels, the 4x4, to continue with scar the dunes.

By discussing with Taieb Jallouli, the decorator, and listing the titles of the dozens of films turned here, I settled some questions which, sometimes helped by common sense, supplied their answers.

Wishes and expectations

The inhabitants of the region expect more movies collection dates. At every arrival of a foreign film, lines stretch out in front of the casting, which sometimes, the arrogance of the helping manipulative assistant directors, resembles an age of feudalism. Conflicts become established between cousins. Brokers seed a social pollution. Should an agency of extras and services be provide on-site?

The service providers and producers seem to have no respect for the village and the landscape and in its natural environment, with few exceptions. They nail sealing fastenings on walls in the hundred-year-old bricks, they draw ropes, nail boardwalk, apply the coating, adding decors, without cleaning before their departure, nor repairing places. Turned plan one collects the cables and the movie cameras and leaves some. Worse still, about twenty years ago after the shooting of a film, lampposts centuries old had disappeared from the village, even the windows of abandoned houses were pulled, and doors purchased against the bites of bread. How to stop the bleeding and institute a specification by the municipality?

Indeed, the made film, one forgets space, its population and the rules of good behavior. Everywhere in the world, when one turns in a city, especially a village, one organizes at least a projection in front of the population for it to be recognized on screen. It is called the right to picture. Because the actors recruited on the spot do not know what they will become in the fiction. Nothing except the faces for movie camera, flesh to objective.

A small idea is in the air, but will it be applied? Institute a filming tax, not heavy, a kind of tenancy of the village following the example of filming in the archeological sites, the sum of which comes to 600 dinars a day. Ah! If they apply this rate to the small municipalities, I am sure that these villages will become jewels, in restaurants monuments, mosques, nice residences, small squares and passages arched which threaten ruin.

Everything encourages us to ask this question: "Why are the foreign producers begin fleeing the Tunisia for Morocco?" We have answers and we shall come back there. But let us say right away that Morocco generates 200 million euro of cinema a year. This thanks to a National Centre of Cinema (CNC) which manages the destiny of all Moroccan broadcasting landscape, with a strict management, an answer to orders and almost instantaneous approvals, a synergy with tourism and the army. Can one hope to follow the experience of Morocco which, ten years ago, envied us and which became established as the country where the cinema is the most prosperous in Africa and in the Arab World nowadays. Thus the Tunisia will return to normalcy the biggest studio of the Maghreb.

Abdelkrim Gabous




2008-12-14 16:02:19

The lure of profit must justify the sale of soul. If the Moroccans seem to want to make it, they will not be the good example to be followed to understand each other, Replace Tataouine by Sfax for instance You say: "....Tarak ben Ammar had persuaded two American film-makers of Hollywood to come to visit this immense studio in the open that is Tunisia..... " No, when Lucas came to film his first one, said 'fourth' episode of stars war in 1976, Tarak ben Ammar was still in the secondary school .. the choice of Tunisia to illustrate the Star Wars is of in: 1) the exploitation by Lucas of the myth of Foum Tatahouine well inked negatively in the collective imaginary French by the history his penal colony of the Bat bagne business. In this sense Lucas abused in his presentation of real Tataouine that he defined well 2) The second reason of this choice seems to us to be introduced well by the backpacker: http://www.routard.com/mag_dossiers/id_dm/24/ordre/4.htm The lunar landscapes of Tunisia "George Lucas found in the Tunisian South the disused landscapes which he searched to represent planets of Star Wars. Since the first shutter turned in 1976, returned for every new episode there (The Phantom Menace, turned in 1997, and The Attack of the Clones, in year 2000)." For your memory In this country lived and always live on men and on women ... The pledging of the negative picture of the Bat d' Af by Pierre Mac Orlan, Colette and Boris Vian to name only the most knowing, does not prevent Lucas from digging it out and amplifying her in his way. Worse it went in the bottom of the history of 'Tataouine' to transform the name of the berber king JUBA into Jabba and to hunt out the people of sand such as he was represented by spies Envoys in scouts by Roger II. Read: 'The Book of Roger' This book was written at the request of Roger II, Norman king of Sicily, to act as guide has envisaged conquests. Draw up, this geographer died by 1165 in this work said: "... Of The Mount Nafusah (Libyan borders) in the mount Doumma (the ancient appellation of the region of Tataouine) there is an identical distance in three days of step on foot '150 km' in some sand in contunu, in the area around Doummar there are people 'of sand' denominated Rahana this Berbers stockbreeders of very quick camels are that he lie to go in bands to operate of on raid and to run away fast to take refuge in their mountains difficult of access, these people know how to make nothing of other than raid " thank you Lucas in the name of mine the people of Tataouine who do not want to be sold by racketeers.

Last Updated Tuesday, June 30 2009 @ 07:38 PM PDT|3,542 Hits View Printable Version


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