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Covid-19 Disrupts Algeria’s Documentary Film Week

Facing a new surge of Covid-19 cases, authorities in Algeria abruptly shut down the country’s Documentary Film Week a day before it was scheduled to open. The festival was supposed to run from January 22 to 27 in Algiers, but local leaders decided on January 21 that it could not go on as planned.

“Documentary Film Week is postponed to a later date following a decision by the wali (governor) of the province of Algiers,” read a statement posted on the festival’s Facebook page.

Organised by the Algerian Centre for Cinema Development, the event had been awaited by intellectuals, actors and filmmakers as an opportunity to reinvigorate Algerian cinema. The sector has experienced stagnation in recent years, observers say, and the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated its problems.

The cinema festival was not the only activity disrupted by the new wave of Covid-19 cases.

National leaders shut down schools across the country for 10 days, according to news reports, and canceled many sports events. Universities were allowed to decide for themselves whether to continue holding in-person classes.

“The Documentary Film Week would have been an opportunity for directors to screen their new works after a long interval, and an opportunity for an audience eager to explore what is new.”

Abla Belamri
Algerian screenwriter

At least one international event planned in Algeria has also been postponed because of Covid-19. The League of Arab States said it will delay a summit that had been scheduled for March 22 in Algiers.

A Lost Opportunity

People connected with the Algerian film industry recognized the necessity of postponing the festival, but still regretted the lost opportunity.

Abla Belamri, an Algerian screenwriter, told Al-Fanar Media that “the Documentary Film Week would have been an opportunity for directors to screen their new works after a long interval, and an opportunity for an audience eager to explore what is new.”

She added: “Unfortunately, the stalemate continues” with Covid-19. She looks forward to when the pandemic ends “and moves are made to pay more attention to the cultural and cinematic scene in particular.”

Faouzi Saidani, an actor, said the event would have been a great opportunity to revive Algeria’s movie theatres. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus came to snatch the lights and darkened the cinema halls.”

Mohamed Alaoua Hadji, an Algerian film critic, believes it would have been possible to continue the festival while strictly following protocols to avoid the spread of infection. “It was a painful shock for movie fans to postpone the event overnight.”

Postponed, Not Canceled

The Algerian Centre for Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts (CNCA), a co-organiser of the event, assured audiences that the festival had been only postponed and would be held later.

Mourad Chouihi, director general of CNCA, told Al-Fanar Media: “We all regret not holding the week on time, between January 22 and 27. However, we confirm that the event will take place when the country’s health conditions allow.”

All of the scheduled films will be screened at that time, he said.

“We do not want to be linked to exacerbating the complexity of the public health situation.”

Mourad Chouihi
Director general of the Algerian Centre for Cinematography and Audiovisual Arts

“We do not want to be linked to exacerbating the complexity of the public health situation,” he added.

13 Algerian Films

The festival had planned to screen 13 documentaries, some for the first time. Top works in the lineup included Salem Brahimi’s “Abd El-Kader” and the late Abdallah Touhami’s “Sophonisba: The Victim Queen of Cirta”.

The festival had also planned to honour a number of Arab films and artists who influenced Algerian cinema, Chouihi said.

Although Chouihi emphasized the diversity of the films on the event’s agenda, the centre’s statement asserted a predominance of historical documentaries. Highlights among these included “Sur les Traces des Camps de Regroupement” (“In the Footsteps of the Concentration Camps”), by Saïd Oulmi, and “Ugema,” by Mohamed Latrèche, which looks back on the birth and the fight of the General Union of Algerian Muslim Students in the struggle for national liberation.

Other historical documentaries on the schedule included Ali Ayadi’s “Enrico Mattei and the Algerian Revolution”, Jean Asselmeyer’s “André Ravéreau et l’Algérie: Et le Site Créa la Ville”, Sid Ahmed Semiane’s “Babylone Constantina”, and Dorothée-Myriam Kellou’s “In Mansourah, You Separated Us”.

Saidani, the actor, noted that other works were not strictly historical documentaries yet had a historical flavour. As an example, he cited Fatiha Bourouine’s “Algerian Surnames, French Hatred”.

Other films were purely non-historical, like Fatiha Afiane’s “Our Sea”; Hocine Saadi’s “Neither There nor There”; Fatma Zohra Zamoum’s “Body + Art”; and Hassen Ferhani’s “143, Sahara Street”.

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Saidani he had hoped to see a cultural boost from the Documentary Film Week, but “the coronavirus had another say”.

Chouihi, of the CNCA, noted that the festival’s postponement had come as part of wider closures.

“The cultural sector, like other sectors, has its fans,” he said. “But organizers must protect those fans’ health above all.”

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