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UNICA 2008

in Hammamet, Tunisia

We had barely received a cool welcoming drink from the hotel than we were enveloped in hugs, kisses and "hellos", proving that the 70th reunion of the UNICA family had begun. 26 from the UK joined a total of 258 delegates from all around the world.

Arriving at a UNICA venue a day or two early allows time to look around the facilities which, in the case of the Sol Azur congress hotel, made us wonder if anyone would leave the palm trees, swimming pools, and lapping Mediterranean sea to come in and watch films in the dark.

Hammamet - hotel at night

The opening ceremony consisted of a film giving the history of amateur movies in Tunisia and the usual speeches, including those in Arabic from Tunisian dignitaries, but simultaneous translations kept the time taken to a minimum. This was followed by an excellent dinner accompanied by music and dancing girls - Tunisian style.

Hammamet - Brian as belly dancer The first days’ projections produced some hiccups and gremlins but UNICA good humour prevailed on the whole, and as the week progressed the high standard of the films compensated for any difficulties.

The British programme got off to a good start with an entertaining intro. made by Brian Dunckley, featuring a belly dancer to match any that Tunisia could offer!

Hammamet - Brian unveiled

In African terms Tunisia is quite a small country, wedged between Algeria and Libya. On our first afternoon trip we learned that the many new roads and bridges were being built with the help of Libya and Japan. In Tunis the French constructed an avenue said to be modelled on the Champs Elysée in Paris, named after President Bourghiba.

Carthage was built by the Phoenicians but because Hannibal came from there the Romans ruined it in reprisal for his exploits in the Roman Empire. We saw some Byzantine remains and also the shape of a gladiatorial arena. Our guide said that during WW11, the allies removed all of the stones to build a causeway to help the war effort.

The Roman bath-house complex was well preserved, however, and in a good setting near the sea, the Presidential Palace and many foreign embassies.

Ice-creams and drinks were very welcome from a sedate shop on the site.

The coaches had to park some way from the hilltop town of Sidi Bou Said which we reached after a climb through the old, narrow alleys to look over a harbour on the Med. The white buildings are very attractive with blue, studded doors, and we collected souvenirs and refreshing drinks during our visit.

A few of the British party had tummy troubles which prevented them making the trip but the organisers kindly laid on a mini bus so that they could link up with the rest in the evening.

Dinner was in a circular courtyard at "Chateau Bacchus", one of the major wine producers in the area. Really varied entertainment included dancers, a snake charmer and a fakir who lay on nails, or broken glass, whilst ladies stood on his back. It wouldn't be a UNICA event without volunteers joining in the fun but being blind folded, then believing a snake was being fed up through your shorts might not have been what one expected! Perhaps it was as well that there was an abundant supply of the Chateau wine!

By now we were learning about "Tunisian time". Instead of returning to the hotel by 11pm it was more like 1am.

Despite the late nights and tempting sunshine there was always a loyal audience of around 200 to watch the programmes. Whilst the jury went off to confer after film sessions the audience had the opportunity to discuss the films. Regular availability of headsets for simultaneous translations was a great boon.

Hammamet - amphitheatre El Djem Our second outing was a trip through the Tunisian countryside to the Roman amphitheatre of El Djem. It was sad to see what looked like crops of plastic bags wafting in the breeze but we were assured that something is being done to improve the situation. However, the dominant feature of the landscape was rows and rows of olive trees of which about 60,000,000 are grown in Tunisia.

Armed with sun screen, hats and water we hit a wall of heat that must have been around 40 degrees as we stepped from the coaches. The amphitheatre came as a surprise to many, especially as it's reckoned to be the third largest in the Roman world. Those with cameras seemed to play hide and seek as they searched out the best places for light and shadow, whilst others found shade in the café tucked under one of the ancient arches.

Our next stop was the Great Mosque of Kairouan, the oldest in North Africa. Unfortunately we weren't allowed inside this spectacular building but steep stone steps led us to a good view from the roof terrace of a shop.

Dinner that night was set out around the pool of a nearby five star hotel. Whilst swallows swept across the water, and sparrows roosted in the trees, we served ourselves from two long buffet tables, and BBQs where they cooked meat and fish. There was more music and dancing and, inevitably, the amusement of two people ending up in the pool fully clothed. Hammamet - meal outside

Hammamet- one minute competition We were told that the World One Minute Film Competition would be held at the Hammamet open air culture centre, set in a huge garden. Not exactly a drive-in movie theatre, but a large screen set in a vast amphitheatre overlooking the Mediterranean.

The One Minute competition has never been an exact science but, with echoes of voting at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, some delegates felt that the large group of young Tunisians succeeded in influencing the vote so that their entry eventually won. Not quite what the organisers planned, but it was a good film and their enthusiasm certainly added to the atmosphere.

At the UNICA AGM it was agreed that the host countries for the next three years will be Poland, then Switzerland and finally Luxembourg.

Saturday’s Jury session, when the final comments and voting take place, always brings excitement and controversy. It’s important to have films discussed by the Jury at this time and the British party were pleased to see two of their films on the list. After passing the Bronze medal vote, Heatwave (by Alan Atkinson - read his making of ) won Silver and finally In the National Interest (by Phil Martin - read his making of ) won Gold. One of only five Gold medals awarded! Hammamet - judging

Often one jury member falls out of step with the others. This year it was the Tunisian chair person herself. Suspecting that some excellent films weren’t amateur (they were!) she refused to give them true credit, to the loud derision of the audience. She then appeared to allow her involvement with the Tunisian RSPCA to influence her vote when she couldn’t condone what she saw as cruelty to some oxen in an ultimate gold medal winner.

Hammamet - final meal As UNICA President Max Hänsli said, each host country brings its own characteristics to UNICA and Tunisia was no exception.

For the closing dinner we followed a candle-lit path way through hotel gardens to eat outdoors again under a massive tented roof. Between courses there was music to dance to and camels to ride on before, around 2am, another round of hugs and kisses signalled the parting of the UNICA family once more.

The British Group at Tunisia

Hammamet - the British group

Annabelle Lancaster and Freddy Beard

with thanks to Frank Brown for providing the pictures.

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Page updated on 16 January 2011
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