Some of the names you know well. Like Kamir Aïnouz whose Honey Cigar played in Venice in 2020, and Sofia Djama whose 2017 feature film debut, The Blessed, won three awards at the festival. And Amin Sidi-Boumédiène, whose Abou Leila premiered in the Critics' Week in Cannes in 2019. Others are names that, although still not established, may already be on your radar. Like Damien Ounouri, whose debut feature, the costume drama The Last Queen was being showcased as a work in progress at DFI's Qumra incubator this year, and which is now being left in mid-air by the sudden decision.
Because with the recent cuts, Ounouri's epic may not see the light of day for the time being, even though it has been a work in progress for the filmmaker for years now.
Aïnouz told MIME: "For the first time, a large number of Algerian directors and other members of our industry join forces to call out to our government and our Ministry of Culture. It is an unprecedented move to respond to an unprecedented decision from our government to cancel public film funding, suddenly abandoning the in-process funding of films that were in production and funding that was still pending for films already finished or in development. We are collectively raising our voices to establish a clear line of communication with our institutions and get official answers from our Minister of Culture."
Following is the letter in its entirety, and we at MIME are the first outlet to publish it in English, in full.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ALGERIAN MINISTER OF CULTURE
We, Algerian directors, raise the alarm on the future of Algerian cinema.
We have all learned, first through rumor in 2021, then via the media in 2022, the cancellation of the National Fund for the Development of the Arts and Techniques of Cinema and the Promotion of the Arts and Literature. As a result, the last remaining tool to publicly fund films has disappeared, without official communication from our institutions on the future of film funding policy in our country.
Culture is a matter of State. Promoting culture so it can soar freely is also a matter of State. The unilateral decision to cancel public funding of cinema in Algeria, without preliminary consultation with its filmmakers, automatically deprives the audience of its access to a free and independent Algerian cinema.
Our audience is made of Algerian and foreign women, men, teenagers and children, in Algeria and throughout the world. Our role is to create independent films, entertainment, documentaries, short films and animation films for our audience – creations that allow all of us to connect and feel together.
Cinema is about dreams, desires, imagination, emotions. Through films, we exist as a people and as a nation. Films carry our culture, our language, our history, our identity, our spirit and our fights. If we cannot tell our stories ourselves and film our own worlds, we take the risk that others will do it in our place; we take the risk of being dependent of foreign funding only and to not be able to carry our voices freely; we take the risk that our audience will not feel represented anymore.
As a reminder, our National Fund for the Development of Cinema has contributed to the financing of Algerian films, as national productions or international co-productions, that have received Palme d’Or, Golden Lion, that have been nominated and awarded Academy Awards, César, that have selected at and received awards in labs and festivals in Algeria and around the world, in Cannes, Oran, Venice, Saïda, Amman, El Gouna, Clermont-Ferrand, Bejaïa, Dubaï, Doha, Carthage, São Paulo, Cairo, Namur, Locarno, Sydney, Miami, Sundance, Seattle, London, etc.
A new wave of innovative Algerian films brings a breath of fresh air to our cinema. Our creation is rich, unique, recognized by our peers and enjoyed by our audience. Canceling this Fund swipes the carpet from under its feet.
On another note, cinema is also an industry that, besides its artistic, identity and cultural mission, makes writers, crews and actors work and feeds their family. Cutting off the film industry from its public funding, all of a sudden, puts not only Algerian films at risk but also those who create and make them and their families.
Factually, the last commission of film public funding in Algeria, scheduled on Sept. 15, 2021, did not happen. The prior commission results have not yet been ratified by the ministry of Culture. Following the cancellation of the Fund, films, that were already in production, did not receive the subventions that had been allocated to them. Overnight, filmmakers had to stop filming and find foreign funding in haste to wrap their productions and pay crews and actors that had already been hired.
At this stage, not only do we see no future for our films but dozens of film projects that have been submitted in the last two commissions are left pending, with no information or perspective of resolution. We have already sent an official letter Madam the Minister of Culture, on Oct 23, 2021. We have not yet heard back.
Madam the Minister of Culture, we ask you today, and with no more delay, to officially and clearly make a communication: firstly, on the position of the Algerian government towards Algerian public funding of cinema; secondly on the specific resolution of the projects submitted to the Fund that are still pending.
We are fully supportive of the statement and worry of the Association of Algerian Producers of Cinema (APAC), who already called out President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in April 2022, on the state funding of film production.
We invite all Algerian directors to join us. We invite all other corporations in our industry – writers, actors, crews – to join us and APAC.
Today, Algerian cinema is at risk of death. We take at heart to make it shine on a national and international level. We count on our government institutions to support us, to promote our creation and to keep this creation free!
Dorothée Myriam Kellou