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  • The Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival in Tunisia features 12 movies from Africa and the Middle East that address LGBTQI issues.

    The Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival in Tunisia features 12 movies from Africa and the Middle East that address LGBTQI issues. | Photo: Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival

Published 16 January 2018

In a place where homosexuality is penalized with up to three years in prison, the Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival is bravely featuring movies that address LGBTQI issues.

Tunisia is celebrating its first ever LGBTQI film festival in the capital, Tunis, featuring 12 films produced in Africa and the Middle East.

The event, which opened Monday, has been organized by non-governmental organization Mawjoudin, and is due to continue until Thursday.

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In a country where homosexuality is penalized with up to three years in prison, according to law 230 of the penal code, the effort defies the political establishment in a peaceful manner.

In the words of the organizers, the first edition of the Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival intends to focus "on the issue of non-normative gender and sexuality, thus breaking the taboos around this theme.

"The festival conceives of itself as audacious; it will deal more with the intersectional approach in the fight against gender-based discrimination and repression."

Mawjoudin (Arabic for "We exist") was founded in Tunisia by young activists, feminists and LGBTQI people in 2014 in order to fight "against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation" and with the mission of "promoting equal rights for all."

The idea for the fesitval was generated by Mawjoudin's film club, "Cinexist," which screens movies and promotes positive debate on their content.

For security reasons, the locations for the festival's cultural activities were revealed only by word of mouth. The organizers say this was a necessary measure because police and security officers weren't expected to attend the events.

Tunisian documentary "Under the Shadow" screened on the opening day, will half of the audience standing because there were not enough seats for the assembled crowds.

Directed by Nada Mezni Hafaiedh, it features the stories of several LGBTQI Tunisians, most of whom have left the country. The film debuted at last years' Carthage Film Festival and was generally well-received.

The festival also includes panel discussions about art and queer resistance. "These discussions between specialists allow the public to understand better what being queer means, as well as the link between politics and the LGBTQI community," said a Mawjoudin spokesman.

Ever since the 2011 beginnings of what became known as "the Jasmine Revolution" or "the Arab Spring," organizations and activist groups have been campaigning for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Tunisia.

In December, the first Arab LGBT rights-oriented radio station went live under the name Radio Shams, despite threats and opposition from the most conservative sectors of Tunisian society.

Earlier this month, crowds took to Tunisia's streets to protest new austerity measures proposed by the government on the same day the Tunisian revolution began back in 2011.

At least 800 people, including activists and journalists, have so far been arrested. More protests are expected to take place in the coming days.


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