Dubai: Arab World Women Directors – Sarra Abidi, ‘Benzine’

Variety profiles five debutant women directors with features in main competition at Dubai

World premiering in Dubai, Sarra Abidi’s shattering debut feature “Benzine” tells the story of a Tunisian couple agonized by loss. They have heard nothing from or about their only son who left for Italy nine months earlier. The film will open in Tunisian cinemas on Jan. 24, 2018.

Unlike the majority of immigration stories, “Benzine” unfolds from the perspective of the people left behind. Abidi says, “Often, images are shown of young people, of small boats, of detention centers in Lampedusa, but one speaks little or not at all of those who remain in their home country. Sometimes it’s harder for those who remain.”

Abidi comes from a documentary background. While shooting a non-fiction film in southern Tunisia, the area in which she was born, the terrain inspired her.

She says, “I met sellers of smuggled gasoline on the road leading to Libya. In a landscape that is arid but beautiful, the gasoline sellers set up along the road. It’s a place where isolation and social misery run side by side, a place where young people, families are condemned to get by thanks to smuggling. I felt the urgent need to write this story and to root it in this landscape.”

While making a first feature is always demanding, Abidi encountered more challenges than most. Towards the end of post-production, her husband Ali Ben Abdallah, the film’s producer and head cameraman, died of a heart attack while working with Tarek Ben Ammar’s Laboratoires Quinta. Abidi is still struggling with that tragic loss. She confirmed to Variety: [Our company] Synergy Productions is involved in legal proceedings against this laboratory.”

Abidi is now in the final phase of post-production on the full-length documentary “Chatt Essalem: the Dead Cannot Vote.”

And, she says, “I’m also writing a fictional story, of which the provisional title is “Sacré dimanche.”

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