Mondher Ben Ibrahim: the Guide to Sufism
Originally from southern Tunisia, Mondher Ben Ibrahim, aged 36, is a film director. He is the man behind Aktab ("The Guide"), a 23-minute film about Sufi heritage that is being lost. Profile by Bérengère Merlot.
Adam Jbali, aged 27, dances among the palm trees of the Kebili oasis where he is from, in southern Tunisia. We follow him as "the first messenger of religious history". This is a nice coincidence, since Mondher Ben Ibrahim's documentary deals with a spiritual journey into the heart of Sufism (Editor's note: the initiatory path to inner transformation in Islam).
Adam is a graduate of the Higher Institute of Music and Theatre in Kef. He is on a quest to find his spiritual origins and turn them into a modern show based on Sufi heritage. He wants to understand what happens in Haḍra, music and dances based on religion with drums and the sound of the zokra, a bagpipe. "It's a whole system, a rhythm, a harmony", says Adam. The film ends with the casting of artists, especially women, which is new, for the production, "Aktab" ("The Guide"). The first performance of this will take place at the end of the year during the Nefzawa City festival in Nefzawa, a city in the south-west of the country.
The documentary, which was produced with the support of Intajat Jadida, is broadcast on Nefzawa TV. This is not Mondher's first rodeo (he has 7 films to his name), but there is a great deal of depth to this documentary, which has become a real success (more than 63,000 views in July 2023). He lives in Rjim Maatoug, a village on the border with Algeria, and works for Nefzawa TV. He graduated from the Higher Institute of Multimedia Arts (Institut Supérieur des Arts Multimédias – ISAMM) of the University of Tunis, in 2012.
After volunteering for Nefzawa from 2013 to 2015, he worked in Tunis for private television channels and a film production company. He then rejoined Nefzawa in 2021 to work on the "Dakerat Maken" ("The Memories of Places") project, which includes "Aktab" and for which there are 12 episodes planned.
"With Aktab, I am trying to preserve and enhance this tradition, which has an abundance of poems, songs and dances", explains Mondher, for whom it is his family's culture. "There are now only 4 schools of Sufism left in Kebili, compared to 12 previously", he adds. Together with his friend Aida Chamekh, who is also a director, he founded the Tunisian Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers (Association des Cinéastes Tunisiens Indépendants – ACTI) in 2011, the aim of which is to defend and protect the rights of filmmakers. He is also a member of the Tunisian Film Directors Association (Association des Réalisateurs de Films Tunisiens – ARFT). According to Aida, "Mondher places great importance on safeguarding heritage through images for future generations. That's why he chose this young man, Adam. Mondher is a well-balanced guy, very calm and modest. He sometimes seems shy, but he's not. He's listening and thinking". Demonstrating this modesty, Mondher "warmly thanks" his family, especially his wife, for their support throughout the entire time he was making his film.
His brother, Ali Ben Ibrahim, 2 years his junior, says that his older brother "clung to his dreams". "As a child, I wrote a lot and wanted to see all the stories I had written", says Mondher with a smile.
For the second episode, Wecham ("Tattooing"), the spiritual theme continues, since we will follow in the footsteps of Maryam, Marie, who practices the Bedouin tradition of non-permanent tattooing, which uses dates. This is another beautiful and striking tradition.