Given that it was the films that I saw when the Africa in Motion festival tour reached my local art-house cinema four years ago that spurred me to sign up for this project the first time round, it seems fitting that the final film of this round should be a film that arrived at my local cinema courtesy of the Africa in Motion festival once again. Like most of the films on offer that first time, this one was a documentary too. Rouge Parole tells the story of the revolution that rocked Tunisia and kick started the ‘Arab Spring’. Or rather it tells stories of the revolution. There is no central over-arching narrative or voice-over to guide us. Instead the film-makers present their audience with different people’s, often contradictory, accounts of flash-points and significant moments of the revolution. The differing accounts are often laid next to each other in the film, interspersed with television news footage, shaky camera phone footage and surreptitiously filmed contemporary recordings by local guerilla film-makers. There doesn’t seem to be any judgement in the inclusion of contradictory accounts, or differing opinions on what action sparked what event, or where the birth place of the revolution truly was. Instead it feels like a statement on the subjectivity of truth, the unreliability of memory and the way in which different things may be true for different people, especially within an oppressive state.
The impact and importance of social media on the fledgling revolution, is an important part of the official narrative we hear of the Arab Spring. The film gives social media credit for empowering ordinary people to act, but also gives it a place within many other important factors. Perhaps the moment when the film first opens up away from the story we expect to see, is when the film visits the office of some local film-makers, they talk about who they are and their experiences of filming the progressing revolution, the tiny space packed with equipment and the wall behind them lined with tapes. Suggesting months, if not years, of careful, circumspect work, recording and logging the brutalities of the regime and countless acts of protest. That one of the film-makers appears to be the cousin of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man who infamously immolated himself into the history books tells its own story. Implies a refusal to let the act go unnoticed, forgotten or its meaning defamed by the authorities the way others had. It leads us on to other young men who had killed themselves in public acts of protest at the system that had crushed them. Which in turn leads to other ‘martyrs’ in other cities, of a fuse running further back than the official narrative acknowledges.
Having spent so much time over the last few years seeing the revolutions in Egypt and Libya through mostly European perspectives – and even the reports from the locals or ex-pats were largely mediated through Western media – it was a welcome change to hear viewpoints on those revolutions from a neighbouring country. To see the joy on a bookshop owners face as she proudly sells previously banned books, the consternation and struggles to adapt of local journalists, faced with an end to the censorship they’ve worked under for so long. In particular when we hear so much about Western aid it was nice to see the practicalities of even small parts of the relief effort for refugees arriving in Tunisia from Libya.
At the heart of this film for me, was a questioning of the idea of the single narrative, of the fallacy of trying to apply the same model to all the countries impacted by the Arab Spring. It begs the question: if this many stories can be told from Tunisia, how many more are waiting to be told and heard from across the region? How many will we be allowed to hear, and how many have already been silenced?