CHECKING IN WITH AWARD-WINNING NORTH AFRICAN FILMMAKER IKBAL ARAFA IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD
As the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, some regions have been impacted far more than others but showing signs of recovery. In the latest installment of our series, we check in with Cartoni tripod user and Tunisian-based filmmaker Ikbal Arafa. We last spoke with Arafa back in 2018, when he was fresh off the heels of his ‘Golden Eye’ award for Black Spirit, an independent short film directed by Chakib Taleb BenDiab and co-produced by “Paprika” and “Clandestino Production”. (You can read more about Arafa’s award and his vision in this feature on Provideocoalition.)
But 2020 hasn’t been as kind to Arafa or the Republic of Tunisia as the pandemic hit at the height of production season and forced the shutdown of the filmmaking industry for months. The good news is that many Tunisians avoided infection and production is now coming back. We check in with Arafa to learn more.
Cartoni: How are things? Typically, we know you travel a lot. Are you still based in Tunisia?
Ikbal Arafa: Yes, I’m still based in Tunisia. This country has a lot to offer. Dense forests in the north, white sandy beaches everywhere, an amazing desert in the South and a Mediterranean climate makes Tunisia the perfect destination for productions needing different landscapes within a few miles.
Cartoni: How did the coronavirus impact you? Did you lose any jobs and did Tunisia go into a lockdown?
Arafa: The coronavirus crisis was a very heavy blow for us. The government declared a state of emergency in mid-March while we were shooting a TV series. We had done 6 weeks and we still had six more. We had to confine ourselves for almost 2 months.
The big concern is that the pandemic arrived while we were in peak production season. In fact, the two or three months before the holy month of Ramadan in the Arab world are synonymous with great excitement in our industry. In fact, 60 to 70% of the commercials and 100% of the Tunisian TV series are filmed at this time. This is to say the impact of confinement in high season for technicians and production companies was incredible.
Cartoni: Now that countries are opening back up, are you seeing work in production pick back up?
Arafa: Unfortunately, summer is usually a calm season. I’m expecting that to be the same this year as in year’s past. Advertisers and big companies are still recovering. They don’t want to take financial risks fearing a second pandemic wave. It will take time to go back to normal, but I am guessing that things should return, probably in September.
Cartoni: Are there any restrictions in going back to work? For example, are you having your temperature checked or do you have to wear masks?
Arafa: Despite the blow that we had in the industry, I consider that we were very lucky with the pandemic in Tunisia. We had very few deaths (more or less 50) and less than 1,200 cases in total, most of which came from abroad. The de-confinement went very well and we practically returned to a normal life. Borders are now open with most European countries.
We do not have any special precautions when shooting outdoors (social distancing and hydro-alcoholic gel being the minimal). But when we shoot indoors, we pay much more attention and we wear masks.
Cartoni: What projects are you working on?
Arafa: At the moment, there are only small projects underway. Some awareness spots and short documentaries of 2 or 3 days of filming. I also did some aerial photography. By the end of August, I have two short films to be shot. I have great hopes that things will go better and that the foreign film crews will soon return to Tunisia.
Cartoni: What Cartoni tripod system are you using?
Arafa: Cartoni has a complete range of fluid heads that suits every camera operator. Personally, I started with the Laser head and then went bigger and bigger accordingly with my camera equipment evolution. My first camera was a fully rigged Canon 5D MKiii mainly used for run and gun shooting style. I switched then to the Sony FS7 as I started doing more and more serious documentaries. I love that camera. I have 3 Units. The Cartoni Laser with the mid-level spreader and the one clamp mechanism were my perfect companion for all kind of rough shooting conditions. I bought a new Focus 18 for a heavier setup when shooting commercials with the Sony FS7.
My 2 ARRI ALEXA Minis came at a moment when I was doing more and more drama projects. I bought the Focus 22 which goes like a charm with the Mini. Recently, I fell in love with the Maxima 30 that allowed me to easily use heavier lenses on the Mini (Anamorphic and heavy zooms). The Maxima 30 is a modern fluid head with digital read for the Counterbalance and big Pan and tilt brakes that are perfectly placed on the left side of the head. It has also a universal Plate stage compatible with ARRI and Red. In association with the Maxima 30, I’m using 3 legs with ground spreader coming in different lengths. This kit is definitely oriented for high-end productions and is going to last in my arsenal.
Cartoni: Out of every crisis, there is an opportunity and I hear you have some great news?
Arafa: One of the bright sides of the COVID-19 confinement, is that we had a lot of free time to hang with our families and to reconsider the future of our profession. So, we managed with some of my colleagues to meet over video conference several times in order to create a new Tunisian directors of photography’s association. I’m proud to announce that the ‘Tunisian Society of Cinematographers’ is born. It’s aimed to unify all the local directors of photography and their partners to elevate the Tunisian know how to an international level. We are also planning to organize events and conferences to discuss about several cinematography related themes. You can follow us on Facebook to get the latest news.
To learn more about Ikbal Arafa, follow him on Instagram.