Najwa Tlili 

Originally published in Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film Video and Television. Africa World Press, Trenton, NJ,  2000.

Interview held during Vues d'Afrique, April 1997, Montreal, Quebec.  Translated from French.

How do you express yourself as a filmmaker from the North African Diaspora, as an Arab woman and a woman of the African continent?

I cannot say that I am a filmmaker or artist, I can only say that I try to make films.  How do I situate myself?  First of all, I am an Arab woman living in Montreal.  Yesterday, I was speaking to a friend regarding Africa.  I told her, "Well, we don't ask ourselves the question 'What are we?'"  In my case, it is within the context of immigration that I position myself.  The question that drives me the most is, "What kind of cinema will I do?"

Yes, I am African, I am from the African continent, it is a part of who I am.  At the same time it is more than a continent that I feel, it is this sense of a psychological and emotional proximity that I have with a person.  I do not feel out of touch with a fellow African from Niger, Mali or Burkina, nor do I feel that I have a completely different dialogue than she does.  I feel a closeness to African women, not only among filmmakers, but with all women, and of course, women from Egypt, and the Maghreb in general.  In fact, I am all of these women at once.  I think that the actual identity of my cinema is my identity, at the same time one and multiple, and sometimes fragmented.

Could you talk about your identity as it informs your films?

My first film, Heritage, was a Tunisio-Canadian production, yet for me it was a Tunisian film.  It was a voyage deep in my memory, a memory of the footprints that I left in Tunisia.  I traveled in these tracks.

My second film is a documentary called Rupture.  It is 52-minute documentary produced here in Canada. It is a film that addresses the problem of conjugal violence lived by Arab women in Canada. While doing this film about conjugal violence, I discovered that the complexities of this inquiry are tied to the circumstances of immigration, and the host country and its culture.

I focus on women living in Montreal, and who at the same time are connected to Canadian culture. And yet, there is a fundamental element that I want to touch. Beyond this complexity of violence, I find myself making a film about the Arab woman, her condition, which is not different from that of the Arab woman living in Tunisia or any other Arab country.

Read the entire interview