EXCLUSIVE: Tunisia has submitted Erige Sehiri’s bucolic coming-of-age tale Under the Fig Trees, about a group of teenagers working as fig pickers over the summer, as its entry for the Best International Film Oscar.

News of the selection came ahead of the feature’s North American premiere Friday in Toronto’s Contemporary World Cinema program.

The work had its world premiere in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in May and since has played at a host of festivals including Karlovy Vary, Melbourne and Sarajevo.

Paris-based sales company Luxbox has unveiled a clutch of new deals to coincide with the Oscar announcement.

Fresh sales include to Benelux (Liberation), Portugal (Nitrato), Spain (Atalante), Turkey (Bir Film) and Eastern Europe (HBO), adding to previously announced deals to France (Jour2Fête) and the Middle East (Mad Solutions).

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The film marks Sehiri’s debut fiction feature after a number of award-winning medium and long-length documentaries including the 2018 work Railway Men, about train drivers who risk their lives to keep Tunisia’s crumbling rail network afloat.

Sehiri, who has accompanied Under the Fig Trees to TIFF, was raised in France and returned to her parents’ native Tunisia following the popular uprising in 2011.

Working first as a journalist covering the aftermath of the revolution, she went on to build a career there as a producer and filmmaker, working under the banner of her La Marsa-based company Henia Production.

She shot Under the Fig Trees guerrilla-style during the summer of 2020 against the backdrop of her father’s native village of Kesra, a Berber village in northwestern Tunisia, renowned for its figs.

Taking inspiration from the light-hearted dialogue of 18th century French novelist Pierre de Marivaux, the film captures contemporary Tunisian society and relationships between men and women through the chatter of the girls, while at work or taking a break.

The film is produced by Sehiri, under the banner of her Henia Production banner, with Didar Domehri at Maneki Films, who is also a co-producer on a second TIFF title, Godland.

Palmyre Badinier, Nicolas Wadimoff and Philippe Coeytaux at Akka films and Roshi Behesht Nedjad at In Good Company take co-producer credits.

Tunisia made it as far as the nomination stage in 2019-20 Oscar race with Kaouther Ben Hania’s The Man Who Stole His Skin.

Here are the International Oscar entries so far:

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