TUNISIA – A frank documentary about the lives of gay Tunisians received an enthusiastic welcome at a local film festival Friday despite homosexuality being a crime in the North African country.
"It's brilliant. If this film made it, then of course we can screen many others," said Sikander, a member of the audience who only gave his first name, as he left the theatre at the Carthage Film Festival.
The room of 500 seats was not big enough to fit all those who flocked to see "Upon the shadow", an intimate, at times explicit, portrait of a group of transvestite and gay friends speaking openly about their love lives, being rejected by their families and their fear of the police.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights have long been taboo in the conservative Muslim state, where sodomy is punishable by up to three years in prison.
The audience broke into applause during several of the film's sequences, though a dozen people stood up and left the theatre, embarrassed by scenes of naked transvestites or two men kissing.
"The message of tolerance is good, but showing naked men isn't acceptable, said Nada, 25, who chose not to give her surname.
Sandra, a young transgender woman who is the only character in the film not to have left the country, appeared proud to have told her story.
"I don't mind telling my story with my face uncovered" even if "I risk being insulted", she said.
When she started filming the documentary in Sidi Bousaid outside Tunis in 2016, director Nada Mezni Hafaiedh had not planned to show it in Tunisia.
But the Carthage Film Festival (JCC) selected the film and screened it in its entirity after it had been shown in Europe.
A founding principle "of the JCC is to express freedoms: showing films banned elsewhere or on complicated topics," festival organiser Nawres Roussi said.
Hafaiedh, the filmmaker, said she was "surprised there were so few complaints" after the screening.
"I would never have thought my film would be selected and that Tunisians would be able to see it, because I know that sadly in Tunisia being gay is an abomination," she said.
Bouhedid Belhadi, who heads the Shams rights association, said the LGBT community had "come out to show its pride publicly" in the film.
"I'm proud to see... the large number of people who wanted to see the film."