The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.


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31 January 2012

A critique of Yasmina Adi’s César-nominated “Here, We Drown Algerians”

A critique of Yasmina Adi's Here, We Drown Algerians - 17 October 1961 (2011) by Olivier Barlet. 
 Translation from French by Beti Ellerson for the African Women in Cinema Blog. (An African Women in Cinema Blog/Africultures collaboration).

At the moment of preparations for the commemoration of Algerian independence, it is essential to underscore the forgotten histories, their episodes voluntarily put aside. While the demonstrations in Sétif on 8 May 1945, the subject of Yasmina Adi’s first documentary, prepared the way for this independence, the drama around the fierce repression of the peaceful demonstration of 17 October 1961 had an impact on the negotiations leading to the Evian accords on 18 March 1962.

Recall the context: In office since 1958, De Gaulle recognised Algerian right to self-determination on 16 September 1959, which led to the attempted 22 April 1961 coup by Generals Salan, Challe, Zeller and Jouhaud. While the FLN and the French government negotiated the terms of independence, the attacks on both sides escalated tensions and police unions demanded increased resoluteness on the part of the prefecture of police, headed by Maurice Papon, the very man who led the repression in Algeria in 1945.

In her courageous desire to re-establish the historical facts, Yasmina Adi has done a truly painstaking work unearthing a variety of documents: newspaper articles, radio and television reports, previously unpublished photographs; putting them in perspective with actual eyewitness testimonies and accounts from the families of the disappeared. Most often captured in Arabic, the filmmaker enjoyed a cultural proximity that enabled her to go beyond unspoken modesty and pain, and perhaps benefiting from her position as a woman, was about to talk with the other women whose husbands had died. The very moving details of lives destroyed, a repressed memory, husbands and fathers who never returned. And then to face institutionalised contempt, which begins with denial, then falls into oblivion.

From these numerous documents the hard facts emerge: the beatings, the blood flowing, the bodies lined up, spread out, piled on top of each other, huddled together, humiliated. The testimonies reveal stories of arrested demonstrators herded into the basement of the Palais des Sports and tortured; the repression is supervised by a cold blooded apparatus where the police are free to run amok. The records show overwhelming proof of the violence that costs the lives of many demonstrators whose bodies were gradually found, often thrown into the Seine, while many others were wounded, imprisoned, even sent to Algeria, exhausted, dirty and without any belongings.

Yasmina Adi’s project, in her own words, is to "shed light", "reveal the truth" and "make it available to the public." An endeavour for truth presupposes an objectivity far removed from the cinematic practices that to the contrary, relates a filmmaker’s particular vision. Hence one would understand that the intention is a desire to reinstate an awareness of the facts, but the means that she employs to do so must be viewed with caution.

On one hand, as always in such situations when the efficacy of visual evidence is maintained, both propaganda documentation and the news reports of the period are difficult to counter. To discern between them, Yasmina Adi uses testimonies: the human against the institution—powerful and sufficient in itself. However, specifically to show the ruthlessness of the police force, she adds audio to the photographs. It is here where the viewers are taken aback, unaware of the source of the sound, they find themselves dealing with a situation that goes from giving information for the public to see, to giving the public what they are supposed to believe. They are no longer able to discern the line between intention and facts, the message given by the filmmaker and the freedom to form their own opinion.

This unpleasant feeling is reinforced by the confines of political contextualisation. In the film the words of the Algerian victims and the propaganda of the French government meet head-on, but what about the FLN that organised the event? The recent films from Guerres secrètes du FLN en France (Secret Wars of the FLN in France) by Bensmaïl Malek (in the fourth part: the ultimate autumn of the war) to Hors-la-loi (Outside the Law) by Rachid Bouchareb, show a French FLN willing to sacrifice human lives on the basis of the Ho Chi Minh doctrine, that repression always benefits the oppressed people. They revealed the strategy adopted in high places, in full awareness of the dangers that would be brought upon the Algerians, unarmed and without backup, by provoking a large-scale peaceful demonstration that would result in a crackdown. And relying on the reactions of the French left, the FLN could then use it to influence future negotiations. These are shown in the film (Sartre, the PSU demonstration, etc.) but the FLN's political strategy is ignored; the imposition of the curfew for "Muslims" on 5 October, which was the official reason for the protest, significantly hampered the activities of the FLN.

What "truth" does the film restore? Unquestionably, the repression and human drama, but this impasse adds to the mixture of memories that has been evoked, so that the condemnation of the historical scandal etches itself deeper into an ambiguous reminder of the past rather than to current affairs. It is essential that at the moment of the fiftieth anniversary of independence that French-Algerian history is laid bare without limitations in order to finally achieve a peaceful relationship between the two countries. However, Yasmina Adi's film, despite the undeniable strength of its evidence and the seriousness of its archival research—which is finally available, perhaps in spite of itself, seems to go along with the present revelations about Françafrique, in the image of a past that the current governments are henceforth ready to reveal, in order to show that it is long-gone, as if the ambiguities of the practices and discourse have vanished overnight.

Also read English translation of interview with Yasmina Adi by Elisabeth Lequeret (RFI) on the African Women in Cinema Blog.

28 January 2012

Call for films: Women and Work - Appel à projets de films: Femmes et Travail

Date limite de dépôt des candidatures: 31 Janvier 2012 | The deadline for applications has been extended to the 31st January 2012.

LE CONTEXTE - Les femmes au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique du Nord sont confrontées à de nombreux obstacles à leur entrée et réussite sur le marché du travail. Des points de vue largement ancrées dans la communauté renforcent les rôles traditionnels et découragent les femmes de poursuivre une carrière professionnelle. Plusieurs d'entre elles qui mènent une vie active, demeurent souvent invisibles dans le monde du travail. Cet appel à projets de films fait partie d'une campagne médiatique qui couvre l'Egypte, la Jordanie, le Maroc et la Tunisie et qui vise à sensibiliser sur les inégalités actuelles et à changer les perceptions et les attitudes envers les femmes dans le monde du travail.

APPEL A PROJETS DE FILMS - Les projets soumis devront présenter seront des projets de courts métrages de fiction ou de documentaires, racontant des histoires individuelles typiques ou exceptionnelles sur le sujet "Femmes et Travail". Le concours est ouvert aux jeunes réalisateurs ou scénaristes ayant de l'expérience préalable dans la réalisation d'un film. Les projets retenus se verront accorder le financement intégral de la production du film et seront ensuite projetés en Egypte, en Jordanie, au Maroc et en Tunisie.

Les formulaires de demande sont disponibles en arabe, en anglais et en français. S'il vous plaît, télécharger ici: Egypte, Jordanie, Tunisie et Maroc.
القضية ـ تواجه المرأة في إقليم الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا العديد من العقبات عند محاولتها الدخول إلى سوق العمل والنجاح فيه. ويضاف إلى ذلك أن مفاهيم المجتمع التي تنتشر على نطاق واسع تعمل على ترسيخ الأدوار التقليدية، وتثني من عزيمتها على البحث عن مسار مهني احترافي، وكثيراً ما تظل المرأة العاملة غير مرئية في سوق العمل. هذه الدعوة المفتوحة لمشروعات الأفلام هي جزء من حملة إعلامية تغطي مصر، الأردن، المغرب وتونس وتهدف إلى زيادة الوعي بعدم المساواة الحالية وإلي تغيير المفاهيم والمواقف تجاه المرأة في عالم العمل.

مشروعات الأفلام ـ إن المشروع الذي يتم التقدم به يجب أن يتمثل في أفكار تصلح لأفلام قصيرة سواء كانت روائية قصيرة أو وثائقية، والتي تصور قصص فردية نمطية أو قصص بارزة عن المرأة والعمل. إن المسابقة مفتوحة للشباب من العاملين في صناعة الأفلام أو من كتاب الأفلام الذين يملكون خبرة سابقة في صنع الأفلام، وسوف تحصل المشروعات الفائزة على تمويل كامل لعملية إنتاج الفيلم، كما سوف يتم عرض هذه الأفلام في مصر والأردن والمغرب وتونس.

إستمارات التقدم متوفرة باللغة العربية، الإنجليزية والفرنسية.يرجى تنزيل هنا: مصر والأردن وتونس والمغرب.

يرجى ملاحظة : تم تمديد الموعد النهائي لتقديم الطلبات الى 31 يناير 2012.
The campaign is implemented by gender and media NGOs in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. It is accompanied by the regional programme "Economic Integration of Women in the Middle East and North Africa" (EconoWin), supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
OUR ISSUE - Women in the Middle East and North Africa face various obstacles entering and succeeding in the labour market. Widely established community perceptions reinforce traditional roles and discourage them from pursuing a professional career. Those who do work often remain invisible. This open call for film projects is part of a media campaign covering Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia that aims to raise awareness of current inequalities and to change perceptions and attitudes towards women in the working world.

CALL FOR FILM PROJECTS - Project submissions should be concepts for fiction or documentary films featuring typical or outstanding individual stories about women and work. The competition is open to young film makers or screenwriters with previous experience in filmmaking. Winning projects will be awarded full financing for film production and will then be screened throughout Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia.

Application forms are available in Arabic, English and French. Please download here: Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco

25 January 2012

Mame Woury Thioubou: Face to Face, Women and Beauty in Saint-Louis | Face à face, Femmes et beauté à Saint-Louis (Senegal)

Mame Woury Thioubou
Mame Woury Thioubou: Face to Face, Women and Beauty in St. Louis (Senegal). Published in Regard Émoi Afrique, 7 December 2011. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson

[En français ci après]

Mame Woury Thioubou was born and raised in Senegal. After a MA in geography at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar and a diploma in journalism at the University of St. Louis, Senegal, she became a journalist/reporter at the "Quotidien" and for the company Avenir Communication, and technical assistant for Programme Agenda 21 in the city of Matam.

In 2009, she decided to return to her studies continuing in the area of journalism but from a more artistic approach by engaging in creative documentary filmmaking, now considered a genre in itself. She enrolled in the Master II Réalisation de Documentaire de Création  (Creative Documentary Filmmaking) at the University Gaston Berger in St. Louis (Senegal), under the tutelage of Africadoc.

In this context she made the collaborative film with the students in her class, St. Louis and Us, and her first short documentary film Face to Face, (17 mn) for which she received public recognition and the award for the best film at the (Festival du film de quartier de Dakar) Neighborhood Film Festival of Dakar in 2009.

Face to Face by Mame Woury Thioubou
Women and Beauty in St. Louis 

Filmmaker's intentions of the film Face to Face

The history of St. Louis is marked by numerous intermixtures of ideas, cultures and races, for which it has earned the reputation of being at the crossroads between African, European and Arab cultures. Adding to this intermixture, is the legacy of the Signares who gave birth to an original form of savoir-être, which artists have continued to invoke in songs and plays.

With its Signares, St. Louis has maintained a tradition that its inhabitants strive to perpetuate through the "Takussanu Ndar." This old St. Louisian tradition consisted of a parade at twilight, in the likeness of the Signares mingling in the streets. Indeed, during the colonial period, Faidherbe square was the everyday gathering place for all St. Louisians, filled with games, music and encounters, where women chatted, displaying their outfits, and also the men, the "ndanaan," who came to have a good look and show off as well. Of course the Signares were present and dressed in their finery, arriving in their carriages, accompanied by their servants.

As an awkward, graceless child who looked like a tomboy, St. Louis has always been my idea of feminine beauty. Now that I am in this "center of elegance and good taste that has been the fascination of Senegal and West Africa," I cannot refrain from looking everywhere, all the time, for this highly-acclaimed beauty and elegance. The streets and alleys of the city that once welcomed the "Takussanu Ndar" have been emptied of their beauties because of the hardships of modern life. The desire to be noticed that brought these ladies to life, is now expressed only during important ceremonies: baptisms, weddings and religious songs. It is an opportunity for the young and not so young, to deck out in precious cloth, coiffed in elaborate hairstyles.

In my film, I investigate the practices of feminine beauty in St. Louis. How do they express it? What are its characteristics? To find an answer to these questions, I pose my camera in various locations. In a hair salon where ladies come to get made up and their hair done; at a shop where they buy beauty products. Moreover, at their homes, I talk to the elders so that they can tell me about the traditions of elegance in the city. And through the metamorphosis of someone in traditional dress and hairstyle, participating in the carnival "Takussanu Ndar", organized as part of the St. Louis Jazz Festival. In order to have a cross-generational perspective: then and now, what are the practices of beauty, what are the changes that have occurred? How do they adapt to the mutations of fashion?

Beyond the simple matter of aesthetics that traverse the film, I want to investigate the societal practices as it relates to beauty. Why do women have to resort to artifices to feel beautiful? And in so doing, to what need are they submitting?

Mame Woury Thioubou: Face à face, Femmes et beauté à Saint-Louis. Publié le 7 décembre 2011. Regard Émoi Afrique  :

Mame Woury Thioubou est née et a grandi au Sénégal. Après une maîtrise de géographie à l’Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar et l’obtention d’un diplôme en Journalisme à l’Université de Saint-Louis du Sénégal, elle devient Journaliste/reporter au “Quotidien”, pour la société Avenir Communication et assistante technique du Programme Agenda 21 de la Ville de Matam.

En 2009, elle décide de reprendre ses études et complète son point de vue journalistique par une approche plus artistique en se lançant dans le documentaire de création, aujourd’hui considéré comme un genre cinématographique à part entière. Elle suit ainsi le Master II de Réalisation de Documentaire de Création à l’Université Gaston Berger de Saint Louis (Sénégal), formation sous la tutelle d’Africadoc.

C’est dans ce cadre qu’elle réalise un film collectif avec des étudiants de sa promotion “Saint Louis et nous”, puis son premier court-métrage documentaire “Face à Face”. Elle obtiendra les salutations du public et sera récompensée de l’Ebène du meilleur film au Festival du film de quartier de Dakar en 2009.
Femmes et beauté à Saint-Louis 
Note d’intention du film “Face à face”

L’histoire de Saint Louis est marquée par les nombreux brassages d’idées, de cultures et de races qui lui ont valu sa position de carrefour entre les cultures africaines, européennes et arabes. A ce brassage, s’est ajouté l’héritage des Signares pour donner naissance à une forme originale de savoir-être que les artistes n’ont cessé d’évoquer dans les chansons et les pièces de théâtre.

De ses Signares, Saint-Louis a gardé une tradition que sa population s’évertue à perpétuer à travers le « Takussanu ndar ». Cette vieille tradition saint louisienne, consistait en une parade crépusculaire, à l’image de celle des Signares dans les rues. En effet, durant la période coloniale, la place Faidherbe était chaque jour, le point de ralliement de tous les Saint-Louisiens. Les jeux, la musique et les rencontres rassemblaient en ces lieux des femmes venues montrer leurs toilettes et papoter mais aussi des hommes, des « ndanaan », venus les contempler et se montrer eux aussi. Les Signares étaient également de la partie et parées de leurs plus beaux atours, elles se rendaient à la place à bord de leurs calèches et accompagnées de leurs servantes.Enfant disgracieuse, sans grâce et aux allures de garçon manqué, Saint louis a de tout temps cristallisé mon imaginaire en matière de beauté féminine. Aujourd’hui que je suis dans  ce «centre d’élégance et de bon goût qui faisait battre le cœur du Sénégal et de l’Afrique occidentale », je ne puis m’empêcher de chercher dans tous les lieux et à tout moment cette beauté et cette élégance maintes fois louée. Les rues et ruelles de la ville qui accueillaient jadis le « Takussanu ndar », se sont vidées de leurs belles du fait des difficultés de la vie actuelle. Le besoin de paraître qui animaient ces dames ne s’exprime plus désormais que dans les grandes cérémonies : baptêmes, mariages ou chants religieux. C’est l’occasion pour jeunes et moins jeunes de se parer d’étoffes précieuses et d’arborer des coiffures très élaborées.

Dans mon film, je souhaite questionner la beauté féminine dans cette ville de Saint louis. Comment s’exprime-t-elle ? Qu’est-ce qui la caractérise ? Pour trouver une réponse à ces questions, j’installerai ma caméra dans divers lieux. Un salon de coiffure ou les dames viennent se faire maquiller et coiffer, une boutique de cosmétique où elles achètent les produits de beauté. Ailleurs, dans les maisons, je donnerai la parole aux vielles personnes pour qu’elles me parlent des traditions d’élégance de la ville. Et à travers la métamorphose d’une personne qui va endosser une tenue et une coiffure traditionnelle pour participer au carnaval du « Takussanu ndar » organisé dans le cadre du Saint Louis Jazz festival, je souhaite faire dialoguer les générations de femmes. D’hier à aujourd’hui, quelles sont les pratiques en matière de beauté, quelles sont les mutations qui sont intervenues ? Comment les femmes s’accommodent-elles de la mode ?
Au delà de la simple question d’esthétique qui traverse le film, je voudrais questionner les pratiques de société en matière de beauté. Pourquoi les femmes doivent-elles recourir aux artifices pour se sentir belles ? A quel besoin se soumettent-elles en le faisant ?

24 January 2012

Rahma Benhamou El Madani: “I try to reconnect with my roots through my films.”

Interview with Rahma Benhamou El Madani and translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson.

Through her films, Rahma Benhamou El Madani discovers and examines her multiple identities. Her latest film Tagnawittude also allows her to rediscover gnawa music and its mystical practices.

Rahma, your identity is of multiple origins: Algeria, Morocco and France. Tell us about your background and how it has formed and influenced you.

I was born in Algeria, in a small village near Oran. My father and mother are Moroccan, they settled in this village, which is where Marcel Cerdan* was born in fact, where many colonial farmers lived from the produce of the vineyard. My parents left Morocco and the Atlas to cross the border to Algeria, my father often went there as a seasonal worker. All their children were born in this village. Then at independence, there was the conflict between Western Sahara regarding the borders between Algeria and Morocco, as has been the case in other African countries. The conflict became more and more serious. In 1968 my father left Algeria and went to France. In 1972, worried about the turn of events, my parents decided to leave Algeria definitively and we settled in France, where my father again worked in the vineyards.

So, cut off from my Moroccan roots, I discovered Morocco and the Atlas at ten years old during the summer holidays. My Algerian roots have been painfully severed. I try to reconnect with these roots through my films.

It took me a long time to find this equilibrium because the elders do not realise that their paths shape us and that they must leave traces for us, so that these memories are not lost. This is what I try to find again, the memory of our world intertwined with each other. The history of Morocco, of Algeria and also of France as it relates to these two countries.

Your training and interests are just as diverse! Language sciences, radio broadcasting and then cinema, do they have points of convergence? How did you come to cinema by this trajectory?

As far back as I can remember storytelling was important to me. I did a stint in language sciences with the idea of studying journalism... and an internship with AFP (Agence France Presse) thanks to a chief editor, also from Algeria, who took me under his wing, and convinced me to take my time with my subjects... So I chose to learn by working in the field rather than through school. I definitely chose the more difficult path... I did not know yet that I was heading toward cinema, it seemed particularly difficult to access for several reasons. I continued my studies while trying my hand at radio broadcasting—with political debates, music programs and radio interviews... my experience ended when I started to conduct a variety of radio documentaries. Writing was already very present in my life. And at the time cameras were heavy, so that when I was looking for information about courses related to the image at Fine Arts schools, or the AFPA (National Association for Adult Vocational Training), I realised that the curriculum was reserved for men. At the time, I did photography in the absence of the moving picture. Hence, cinema came into my life through photography.

Then life had it that with my companion, I left Bordeaux for Lille. I decided to drop radio and the image and tried teaching--in the direction of French as a foreign language. And paradoxically at that moment I met a teacher of film studies, who was also an activist in MRAP (Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples) and an organizer of a film festival in Lille (the Acharnière), and I returned to my original path. After her classes she gave me some quick tips that I wrote down rapidly, though I never enrolled in the courses. Once again this fear in my heart of not wanting to leave the field of action. It was during my pregnancy that I became aware of my desire to make a documentary. I wrote a lot. Sectors of the French housing projects were at a boiling point, France began to realize that the young people from immigrant families who lived there were exploding with anger. Khaled Khelkal* became a terrorist and France had to open its eyes to this world. Having come from radio, I had obviously a terrible time convincing myself to make the transition, but I did. I quickly understood thanks to the film studies teacher that I should not be afraid of film production. In order to speak to producers one must understand what it is about.

Your films follow your own journey. Between the Maghreb and France in search for your past and present history, that of your parents, and also of the lives of the people who live around you. Why these themes? Why use this approach to explore them? Tells us a bit about your films.

As my first film was not successful, I decided to take a pause because the topic was too sensitive for me to be influenced by a producer. I chose not to do it the way I was asked to. However a fifteen-minute film essay called "The Emotion of an Encounter" remains. It takes place in Vaulx en Velin in 1995 when the media was focusing on the terrorism that took place there during that time.

My father retired and decided to go live in Morocco. I sensed an urgency to have my parents talk about the conflict between Algeria and Morocco, then taboo. DVCAM cameras were finally emerging. I learned how to use it and attended a filmmaking workshop. I filmed my parents, doing both the image and sound myself. I wanted to find my agility again. The film was co-produced by the Dardenne brothers. Jean Pierre Dardenne taught me something I still remember: never forget the instinctive desire to tell a story. With these words as my guiding force, I did extremely well at the screenings and discussions that were often very passionate. It became very difficult to attend the film screenings, and finally I decided to stop the Q&A sessions that followed, which were often indicative of the ongoing conflict between my two Maghreb countries.

The theme on French immigration policy, of course, concerned me directly. I understood that I had to approach it in a radical way. I chose to do a short fiction film, "Stronger than all the rest?". For a so-called mixed couple is love stronger than politics? I chose to approach the topic of mixed marriage when under the Pasqua laws* any mixed couple was suspected of being in a marriage of convenience. The film was screened as the first part of a documentary "I’m home" which I did two years later, as I was interested in the children of undocumented immigrants and in the RESF (Education Without Borders Network) of which I am a part. As an activist at RESF, it was important for me to take my camera and follow an Algerian family and their children, and a young Colombian student. This film was a way for me to demonstrate how French people came out of the shadows and showed support alongside the undocumented immigrants. Through this film I was touched not only by the solidarity, but also by the living conditions of the undocumented immigrants in my neighborhood in Belleville. At the premiere, there were a lot of people at the Bellevilloise, where most of the neighborhood concerts and events take place. My whole neighborhood was mobilised and this screening will long remain in my memory. The film will make the rounds, it will have its history, it will be taken off the air for unknown reasons... I had already left to do research, this time on gnawa music, a subject I had already started before making, "I’m home"...

Tagnawittude! What a great title for the film! What is gnawa music? 

I was often in contact with musicians during my time in radio broadcasting. One cameraman showed me some images during the African tour of the group Gnawa Diffusion. I knew the singer Amazigh Kateb because of my interest in the work Nedjma by his father Kateb Yacine, which allowed me to maintain my invisible link with my homeland. This encounter was very significant for me, allowing me to return to Algeria to shoot Tagnawittude.

I was not yet ready to talk about Algeria. So I decided instead to combine my two countries by telling their common history, their common culture, through gnawa music. As this ancestral culture was currently in fashion, I seized the opportunity to connect with the musicians of the group Gnawa Diffusion, as well as Amazigh and Aziz Maysour. Moreover, it comes together rather well with the sonorous effects in the western world. The film production was rather challenging, and the process chaotic. There was very little funding and a lot of down time between shootings because of the power of the film footage and my investment in the project. The film was very difficult to make. I had to pause quite often in order to understand the culture, to seek explanations while on location, and to persevere in situations where many would have stopped—because all my friends advised me to move on to another subject.

At the present, gnawa music is very trendy in the Maghreb, which may be explained by the search for the essence of our culture among the youth. But also in different sectors of the Maghreb society caught between the west and the religious world. In fact, gnawa music speaks to everyone.

What inspired you to make a film about gnawa music? What was your approach? Your journey and discoveries?

What inspired me at the outset let’s say, is this vision that I had when seeing the Moroccan maestro Maalem Hmida Boussou descending the stairs, which made me think of my maternal grandfather. In fact, Amazigh Kateb asked me, "how is it that your grandfather is black?..." Again this response triggered something inside of me. And listening to the Algerian maestro Maalem Ben Issa talk to me quietly about this culture while playing the guembri, it was so blues, so intense... I could not help but feel something that must have created a kind of reminiscence. My origins rising to the surface.

I put a lot of time into viewing my images, logging step by step each time I returned from my film shoots. For me it was important to film my research because I knew that to follow a singer like Amazigh Kateb would be vigorous. I never thought that there would be only men in the film. Yet I faced this problem without ever thinking about it. Filming the musicians during the tour in France was very challenging because I was there by myself, I set up the camera and I filmed without talking to anyone. I knew I was in a minefield anyway so I asserted myself through my silence. However, after some very tricky situations I decided to work with a camera operator, and to do the sound, keeping a second camera that I used when I felt the need. It was rather odd to find myself in the position of boom operator in the middle of gnawa, but no one ever disrespected me or criticised my presence.

This film helped me understand the practice of the trance in the Maghreb and also to discover this culture through its music. After the Essaouira Festival I had the opportunity to travel by plane from Casablanca to Algiers. I wanted to live this symbolic link, which still today remains a very important trip for me.

This film is also personal, as a little girl you encountered the gnawa spirit through your mother as she practiced the trance. How have these childhood memories evolved? How have they influenced you?

I did not understand right away the trance of my mother. It took me years to grasp it. My mother continued to practice it privately in France. And as I got closer to the gnawa music I began to understand what she was experiencing. I showed her the footage that I shot during my research. She named the objects surrounding the gnawa practice, and without further explanation, I understood. My mother was initiated in Algeria and I think that I was able to evoke this memory when listening to these musicians play while on location and even before, when listening to the group Gnawa Diffusion. These practices of the trance have clearly marked my worldview. I have been marked by the visits to the marabouts and other mystical practices. The invisible is important in the world of the women of the Maghreb. Obviously I have been inspired a lot by the trance practiced by my mother and I think that her beliefs and vision of the invisible world have given me the impetus to write and create.

What has been the reception of Tagnawittude?

I was very touched by the Algiers premiere. It was a success both in terms of the public and the press. I actually spent ten days responding to journalists, it was a very important reception for me to be able to say who I am, what I was doing there and why. Algeria, thirty-four years later, was very welcoming.

Morocco was a bit more problematic. The premiere of the film was canceled due to the floods the day of the scheduled screening in Casablanca, which was plunged into chaos. I planned this important trip, two months before the Jasmine revolution. First to Carthage then to Algiers, next to Oran, my hometown and last to Casablanca. I had a desire to see the Maghreb, and for one and a half months while screening my film I made this journey. The Maghreb, with open borders in the past, now divides and separates these people with the same origins.
Tagnawittude has traveled from Dubai to Montreal, to Santiago, Chile, to Tennessee, Arizona, and New York. Back to Algiers for the Ramadan vigils... to Paris, and soon to Geneva… The film seems to be enjoyed by a diverse public. The discussions in Dubai and New York revolved around the religious aspect of this culture. Of course, there is this hint of tolerance in the gnawa, which is first and foremost a Sufi religious brotherhood.

As for France the film will be released on 6 June first at the Cinéma la Clef in Paris, and then we will accompany the film screenings to mini-concerts in other venues. We are working on the release of the DVD and are still hoping for post-production assistance for theatrical release, and especially for assistance from the CNC (National Center of Cinematography and the moving image). Time will tell if this film will be well received in France. As for Morocco, I hope it will eventually be shown there, of course I wish it will take place under better conditions.

January 2012

*Marcel Cerdan, a French pied noir born in what was then French Algeria, was a world boxing champion.

*Kahled Khelkal who was born in Algeria and immigrated to France as a child, was affiliated with the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) and involved in terrorist activities in France in 1995.

*The Pasqua-Debré laws are three French laws adopted in 1986, 1993 and 1997 whose objective was to regulate immigration.

Rahma Benhamou El Madani : « Je tente de renouer avec mes racines à travers mes films. »

Entretien avec Rahma Benhamou El Madani de Beti Ellerson
À travers ses films, Rahma Benhamou El Madani découvre et examine ses identités multiples. Son dernier film Tagnawittude lui a permis de redécouvrir aussi la musique gnawa et ses pratiques mystiques.
Rahma, vous avez une identité de multiples sources : l’Algérie, le Maroc et la France. Parlez-nous de vos origines et comment elles vous ont formées, influencées.

Je suis née en Algérie, dans un petit village près d’Oran. Mon père et ma mère sont marocains, ils se sont installés dans ce village, où est né aussi Marcel Cerdan d’ailleurs, où de nombreux fermiers colons vivaient de la vigne. Mes parents ont quitté le Maroc et leur Atlas pour passer la frontière et aller en Algérie. Mon père y allait souvent en tant que saisonnier. Tous leurs enfants sont nés dans ce village. Puis il y a eu l’indépendance, l’histoire du Sahara occidental et les frontières entre l’Algérie et le Maroc posaient problèmes, comme dans d’autres pays africains. Le conflit devint de plus en plus sérieux. En 1968 mon père quitta l’Algérie et arriva en France, en 1972 mes parents inquiets de la tournure de la situation, décident de quitter définitivement l’Algérie et nous nous installons en France où mon père travailla dans le vignoble encore une fois.

J’ai donc été coupée de mes racines marocaines et je découvrais le Maroc et l’Atlas à l’âge de 10 ans pendant les vacances d’été. Mes racines algériennes seront coupées douloureusement. Je tente de renouer avec ces racines à travers mes films.

J’ai mis beaucoup de temps à trouver cet équilibre car les anciens ne se rendent pas compte que leurs chemins nous façonnent et qu’ils doivent nous laisser des traces pour ne pas perdre la mémoire. C’est ce que je tente de retrouver, la mémoire de notre monde entremêlé l’un à l’autre. L’histoire du Maroc, de l’Algérie et aussi de la France dans son rapport à ces deux pays. 

Vos formations et intérêts sont aussi divers ! Études de Sciences du langage, la radio, et puis le cinéma, ont-ils des points de convergences? Comment êtes-vous arrivée au cinéma par ce chemin?

Du plus loin que je me souvienne, on va dire que mon envie de raconter a été importante. J’ai fait un passage en Sciences du langage en vue de me présenter à l’école de journalisme… et un stage à l’AFP grâce au rédacteur en chef qui m’avait prise sous son aile, et originaire d’Algérie également, m’a convaincue de faire des sujets en prenant mon temps… J’ai donc choisi de faire du terrain plutôt que de passer par une école. J’ai vraiment choisi la voie la plus difficile… Je ne savais pas encore que je me dirigeais vers le cinéma, il me semblait bien difficile d’y accéder pour plusieurs raisons. Je menais mes études tout en m’essayant à la radio et aux débats politiques, aux émissions musicales et aux interviews… mon expérience radiophonique pris fin lorsque j’ai commencé à mener des sortes de documentaires radiophoniques. L’écriture avait déjà beaucoup de place dans ma vie. Et à l’époque les caméras étaient lourdes, ce qui fait que lorsque je me renseignais sur les formations liées à l’image aux Beaux arts ou bien à l’AFPA (Association nationale pour la formation professionnelle des adultes), je comprenais bien que ce poste était réservé aux hommes.  Je pratiquais, à ce moment-là, la photographie à défaut d’image animée. Le cadrage est entré dans ma vie par le biais de la photo.

Puis la vie a fait que j’ai quitté avec mon compagnon ma région Bordelaise pour Lille. J’ai décidé de laisser tomber la radio, l’image et de tenter l’enseignement en me dirigeant vers la filière français langue étrangère. Et c’est paradoxalement au moment où je laisse tomber que je rencontre une enseignante en filmologie, militante au MRAP (Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples), organisatrice d’un festival de cinéma à Lille (l’Acharnière) et que je suis remise sur mon chemin… Elle va seulement après ses cours me donner quelques conseils rapides que je note rapidement… je ne m’inscrirais jamais à ses cours. Encore cette peur au fond de moi de ne pas être sur le terrain. C’est pendant ma grossesse que je prends conscience de mon choix de faire un documentaire et que j’écris beaucoup, les banlieues françaises étaient en ébullition, la France commençait à se rendre compte que les cités et les jeunes issus de l’immigration qui y vivaient explosaient de colère. Khaled Khelkal devenait un terroriste et la France devait ouvrir les yeux sur ce monde-là. Venant plutôt de la radio, j’ai eu évidemment un mal fou à convaincre. Mais je l’ai fait. J’ai rapidement compris grâce à cette enseignante que la production ne devait pas me faire peur. Il fallait pour savoir parler aux producteurs comprendre de quoi on parle. 
Vos films suivent votre parcours ! Entre le Maghreb et la France à la recherche de votre histoire passée et présente, celle de vos parents et aussi de la vie des gens qui vous entourent. Pourquoi ces thèmes ? Pourquoi cette approche pour les raconter ? Parlez-nous un peu de vos films.

J’ai essuyé un échec sur mon premier film, que j’ai décidé de stopper de moi même car le sujet abordé était trop délicat pour me laisser influencer et diriger par un producteur. J’ai choisi de ne pas le faire comme on me le demandait. Il n’en reste qu’un essai de 15 minutes « Emotion d’une rencontre » ça se passe à Vaulx en Velin dans les années 95 au moment où les médias se focalisaient sur ce lieu pour des raisons liées à l’actualité du terrorisme.
Mon père prenait sa retraite et décidait de partir vivre au Maroc. Il est devenu pour moi nécessaire de faire parler mes parents du conflit algéro-marocain alors tabou. Les caméras DVCAM font enfin leur apparition.  Mon cadreur va alors m’expliquer comment m’en servir. Puis je fais un stage de prise de vue. J’ai filmé mes parents moi-même, seule à l’image et au son. Je voulais retrouver ma légèreté. Ce film sera coproduit par les frères Dardenne à l’étape de la postproduction. Jean Pierre Dardenne m’a appris quelque chose dont je me souviens encore : à ne jamais oublier sa volonté instinctive qui a poussé à raconter.  Je serai amenée à me dépasser alors lors des projections-débats devant souvent des réactions très passionnées. Accompagner ce film a été très difficile. J’ai fini par décider d’arrêter ces débats souvent révélateurs du conflit qui perdure entre mes deux pays maghrébins.
Le thème de la politique en France lié à l’immigration, évidemment, me concernait de très près. Je comprenais bien qu’il me fallait l’aborder d’une façon radicale. Je choisis la fiction et le court métrage. J’ai pu tourner, au Studio Le Fresnoy, mon premier court métrage fiction « Plus fort que tout le reste ? ». Est-ce que l’amour est plus fort que la politique pour un couple dit mixte ? J’ai choisi d’aborder le thème du mariage mixte au moment où avec les lois Pasqua tout couple mixte devenait suspect de mariage blanc. Ce film sera projeté en première partie d’un documentaire « Je suis chez moi » que je ferai 2 ans plus tard en m’intéressant aux enfants de parents sans papiers et au RESF (Réseau Education Sans Frontière) dont je ferai partie tout en filmant. Il m’est apparue nécessaire de prendre ma caméra et de suivre une famille algérienne et leurs enfants ainsi qu’un jeune lycéen d’origine colombienne tout en militant au RESF. Ce film a été pour moi une façon de montrer la population française sortir de l’ombre en même temps que les sans papiers et montrer son soutien. Je suis sortie de ce film, marquée par cette solidarité, mais aussi par les conditions de vie des sans papiers dans mon quartier à Belleville. A l’avant première, il y avait vraiment énormément de monde à la Bellevilloise, lieu où l’on a plus l’habitude d’aller voir des concerts. Tout mon quartier se mobilisait et cette projection restera longtemps dans ma mémoire. Le film circulera, il aura son histoire, sera déprogrammé d’une chaîne pour des raisons obscures… J’étais déjà repartie sur ma recherche vers cette fois la musique gnawa, sujet que j’avais commencé avant « Je suis chez moi »… 

Tagnawittude ! Quel titre ! Quelle est cette musique gnawa alors ?
J’ai été souvent en contact avec des musiciens de par mon parcours radiophonique. Un caméraman m’a confié des images de la tournée africaine du groupe Gnawa Diffusion. Je connaissais le chanteur Amazigh Kateb par l’intérêt que je portais à l’œuvre Nedjma de son père Kateb Yacine, qui me permettait de maintenir mon lien invisible avec mon pays natal. Cette rencontre a été très marquante pour moi, elle m’a permis de revenir en Algérie pour tourner Tagnawittude.

Je n’étais pas prête pour parler de l’Algérie. Alors j’ai décidé plutôt de lier mes deux pays en racontant cette histoire commune, cette culture commune autour de la musique gnawa. J’ai saisi grâce aux musiciens de ce groupe Gnawa Diffusion comme Amazigh et aussi Aziz Maysour que cette culture ancestrale était à la mode et qu’elle se fusionnait plutôt bien au monde occidental et à ses sonorités. Le film a eu une production difficile, un parcours très chaotique. Très peu de financement, beaucoup de temps entre les tournages à cause de la puissance des séquences filmées, et de mon investissement. Ce film a été très difficile à faire. J’ai dû faire beaucoup de pauses pour comprendre cette culture, pour aller chercher sur place des explications, et pour continuer là où beaucoup auraient arrêté, puisque tous mes amis me conseillaient de passer à un autre sujet.

La musique gnawa aujourd’hui est très tendance au Maghreb et cela s’explique par une recherche liée à l’essentiel de notre culture chez la jeunesse mais aussi dans les différentes sphères de la société maghrébine prise entre le monde occidental et le monde religieux. La musique gnawa parle à tous.

Qu’est-ce que vous a inspiré de faire un film sur la musique gnawa ? Quelle était votre démarche ? Votre parcours et découvertes ?

Ce qui m’a inspiré on va dire au départ c’est cette vision que j’ai eu en voyant le maître marocain Maalem Hmida Boussou descendre des escaliers et qui me faisait penser à mon grand père maternel. Amazigh Kateb me demandera d’ailleurs « pourquoi ton grand père est noir ? »… Cette réponse a été un déclencheur encore une fois au fond de moi. Et puis en écoutant le maître algérien Maalem Ben Issa me parler de cette culture timidement alors que le son qu’il jouait sur son guembri était tellement blues et tellement fort… je n’ai pas pu m’empêchait de ressentir quelque chose qui a dû créer une sorte de réminiscence. Mes origines remontait à la surface.

J’ai mis beaucoup de temps à visionner mes images, à écrire étape après étape à chaque fois que je revenais de mes repérages filmés. C’était important pour moi de filmer mes recherches car je savais que suivre un chanteur comme Amazigh Kateb allait être sportif. Je n’ai jamais pensé que dans mon film il n’y aurait que des hommes. J’ai pourtant été confrontée à cette difficulté sans l’avoir jamais pensée. Le tournage en France auprès de musiciens a été très difficile parce que j’arrivais seule, je posais ma caméra et je tournais sans jamais parler à personne. Je savais que j’étais sur un terrain miné de toute façon alors je m’imposais par mon silence. J’ai décidé à la suite de moments très épineux de travailler avec un caméraman et de faire la prise de son. J’ai gardé quand même une deuxième caméra pour moi que j’utilisais quand je le sentais. C’était assez particulier de me retrouver en position de perchiste au milieu de gnawa, mais jamais personne ne m’a manqué de respect ou m’a reproché ma présence. 
Ce film m’a permis de comprendre la transe au Maghreb et aussi de découvrir cette culture d’une façon musicale. J’ai eu la possibilité depuis Casablanca après le festival d’Essaouira de me rendre en avion à Alger. Ce lien symbolique j’ai tenu à le vivre et ce voyage est très important pour moi encore aujourd’hui.
Ce film est aussi personnel, vous avez rencontré l’esprit gnawa comme petite fille à travers votre mère qui pratiquait la transe. Ces souvenirs d’enfance comment ont-ils évolués ? Comment vous ont-ils influencés ?

J’ai pas compris de suite la transe de ma mère. J’ai mis des années à saisir. Ma mère continuait à pratiquer la transe en France d’une façon personnelle. Et en m’approchant de la musique gnawa j’ai compris ce qu’elle vivait. J’ai alors filmé mes repérages et je lui ai montré ces images.

Elle a nommé les objets qui entourent la pratique des gnawa, et j’ai compris sans autre commentaire. Ma mère a été initiée en Algérie et j’ai dû, je pense, retrouver la mémoire en entendant jouer ces musiciens aux moments de mes repérages et auparavant en écoutant le groupe Gnawa Diffusion. Ces pratiques de transe évidemment ont marqué ma vision du monde. Je suis très marquée par les visites aux marabouts et les autres pratiques mystiques. L’invisible est important dans le monde des femmes maghrébines. Evidemment la transe pratiquée par ma mère m’a beaucoup inspirée et je pense que sa vision du monde invisible et ses croyances m’ont permis d’entrer dans la création et l’écriture. 

La réception de Tagnawittude ?

J’ai été très touchée par l’avant-première à Alger. Ce fut un succès tant au niveau du public qu’au niveau de la presse. J’ai passé 10 jours à répondre aux journalistes, ça était un accueil très important pour moi de dire qui je suis et ce que je fais là et pourquoi. L’Algérie 34 ans après fut accueillante.

Le Maroc a été un peu plus problématique. Le jour de l’avant-première des inondations ont plongé Casablanca dans le chaos et la projection évidemment devait être annulée. J’ai tenu, à deux mois avant la révolution du Jasmin, à faire un voyage important, d’abord Carthage à Tunis, puis Alger et ensuite Oran et mon village natal et enfin Casablanca. J’ai eu ce besoin de voir le Maghreb pendant 1 mois et demi, je l’ai parcouru profitant de mes projections. Ce Maghreb aux frontières ouvertes dans le passé, aujourd’hui divise et sépare un même peuple.
Tagnawittude a voyagé, de Dubai à Montréal, à Santiago du Chili, au Tennessee, en Arizona, à New York… à Alger à nouveau pour les veillées du ramadan… à Paris, à Genève bientôt… ce film a l’air de plaire à divers public. L’échange à Dubai et à New York tournait autour de l’aspect religieux de cette culture. Evidemment il en est question en filigrane de cette tolérance des gnawa qui est avant tout une confrérie religieuse soufie.

Pour ce qui est de ce film en France il sort en salle le 6 juin d’abord au cinéma la clef à Paris et puis nous accompagnerons le film avec des mini-concerts dans d’autres salles. Nous travaillons sur la sortie du dvd.  Nous espérons encore des aides à la postproduction pour la sortie salle et surtout l’aide après réalisation de l’avance sur recette du CNC. L’avenir nous dira si ce film sera accueilli en France. Quant au Maroc j’espère qu’il finira par accueillir ce film, je le souhaite dans de meilleures conditions.

Janvier 2012 

18 January 2012

Nadia El Fani: "In politics it’s alright to lose"

© K'ien Productions
Interview with Nadia El Fani about her film “Secularism, Inch’ Allah” by Olivier Barlet. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson for the African Women in Cinema Blog. (An African Women in Cinema Blog/Africultures collaboration)

You make a simple investigation on the hypocrisy that exists in religion as it is lived in daily life with a focus on Ramadan. Then there is a revolution and the nature of the film changes, directing its attention to the public debate on secularism. How did the transformation from the original project take place?

In fact, I did not start off with an investigation. I do not imagine my documentaries in that way. I went with the idea of an activist film committed to defending freedom and democracy in Tunisia since we had reached a point of utter disgust under Ben Ali. I lied about the subject and the title in order to get permission to film with the understanding that this may probably prevent me from returning to Tunisia. There was at the same time, this increasingly obvious manipulation of religion. Ben Ali let one of his sons-in-law open a radio station, Zitouna, which broadcast the Koran from morning to evening, and we saw people queuing to go to a new Islamic bank. I went to make a film about the atheists in Islam, and with Ramadan approaching, I thought I should explain to the world what a Muslim experiences in a Muslim country during Ramadan. I think no one is aware to what extent it is an obligation that takes precedence over everything, even one’s work schedule. Life is organised around the time that the fast ends. One gets the impression of a social communion around the fact that everyone must shop for food and then eat at the same time, so that there is a lot of social hypocrisy. I went to shoot about those who resist Ramadan. The film was called “Disobedience” and it was as much about the disobedience to Ben Ali as to religion. I wanted to find people who were not fasting, not necessarily artists or intellectuals who are accused of being an elite but also normal people who agreed to say so in front of the camera. And then I wanted to show the cafes, the hidden storefronts, etc. But for me it was most of all to denounce the collusion between government and religion, how the government used religion as a lightning rod and how religion was overvalued to gain ground in society. We were aware of the Islamisation of society. I realised that when we went to the people individually, things went relatively well, and that when we went into more collective situations, or for example, when we entered a cafe, people were a bit aggressive.

When people are talking among friends, they do not really hide the fact that they are not fasting.

True, and even socially, but it is mainly the men. It is visible in the film. The women who say that they do not practice Ramadan are generally from a highly regarded family. But anyway, in every family, there are some who do not fast and there is no problem. The fact that the Quran says: "If you disobey, you must hide it", the fact that it is written, is a kind of appeal to social hypocrisy. This makes people immature in their way of living, and obliges them to be hypocritical. This phrase has been repeated to me on every occasion. I almost titled the film as such, and I had used it as the subtitle.

The film has also changed titles several times.

I always have titles that are a bit strange and multiple… I really liked Neither Allah nor Master for its reference to anarchism and to Auguste Blanqui*, a militant in French political history, and in the Spanish Civil War: one knew the position that one was taking. However, the title was very badly received in Tunisia, with the belief that I was attacking Islam. Though the film is the complete opposite, it is a film about mutual tolerance. The title Secularism inch’ Allah relates more to the theme of the film. I found it a bit soft! But changing the title while keeping a touch of provocation pulled the rug from under the Islamists who attacked me.

The Islamisation of society took place underground. Your film has become a means for the Islamists to reclaim the public space.

Yes, it is what happened after the film and we realise how important it is to know how to handle the media tool. In Tunisia, the Islamists use it much better than the progressives. They have so many computer engineers and technicians, people connected to the Internet. They threw around slogans, and probably paid people to get the messages on the Internet on a large scale. They were very strong, knowing that the best defence is to attack. The progressives were hopeless: they were drawn into issues that were not even theirs and on top of that they caved in. Starting from the premise that we are all Muslims, the debate was not about the place of religion in society, but to follow the way the Islamists wanted to impose it. The progressives did not refute them. It was important to defend the ability to declare that one is atheist. This would have allowed the possibility to gain some ground. They never dared to defend me on that point. It's not about me, but I think that is how things should be said.

So you think that the electoral stakes were far more important to them than to defend the country's diversity and freedom of thought?

Absolutely. And so they lost the vote. I get messages supporting me from all sectors, and often from believers. There were a lot of veiled girls at the pro-secularism rally, as well as people who held signs saying they were Muslims for secularism. But there were also the undecided who remained anonymous holding on to their religion. If they were told that it would be taken away, it is natural that they would react. They were told that I wanted to impose my atheism throughout the country. By not coming to my defence, they allowed these views to spread. I was far away and had health problems that prevented me from coming. I was then pulled into a machine, threatening to kill me, with terrible images on the Internet, taken away in a whirlwind. Everyone had their say about me, I was insulted, slandered: called a Zionist, a Mossad agent, and whatever else could be said. It was for me to justify myself. Islamists are the ones using violence and it is up to us to justify ourselves when they should be arrested and tried! We have never seen a layperson abuse an Islamist, but we have seen many Islamists mistreat laypeople.

Western media discourse adopts a clear separation between the Salafists, and the Islamists who present themselves as moderates. The Salafists are the shoot’em up, tear down the room where the film is screened, etc. You tend to blur this differentiation.

Yes, I am saying I do not understand what a moderate Islamist is. To me he is anti-democratic because he wants to impose his vision of religion on an entire people, where as in a democracy representatives are elected to decide the law. The law has not been written for 1400 years, there are plenty of laws to be written! I am hammering on the fact that Mr. Ghanouchi* is imposing himself as commander of the faithful, without a political office, and on top of it he is making all the declarations and deciding everything. I have a videotape of a meeting where he spoke about my film and all the while citing the wrong title, he called it stupid and claimed that it was against Allah. The manipulation of the mind goes far! He used slander and lies to disparage me, while criticising a film he apparently had not seen it. In the name of democracy, he should have condemned his military wing that is making these attacks. I asked him for months to support my right to make the films that I want, and to say what I want about my beliefs, but to no avail.

Ultimately, the film focuses on the public debate on the subject of secularism, which would oppose a Tunisia that declares itself as Muslim and Tunisia as a secular state.

The debate was not well formulated. To declare Tunisia as Muslim is to say that when the weather is nice the sky is blue! Tunisia is Muslim and on this point I agree with them completely. I am an atheist Muslim. I know that I am part of this culture in terms of identity. But the problem is a political one: only those who want to should have to observe religious laws; hence the separation of religion and state. Everyone must comply with the laws of the Republic. It is in this sense that I want secularism. They want religious laws to be imposed on everybody. For them Islam is political. Facing this expanded freedom there may now be a fear that there is one or two religious parties in a country in which people have become used to separating religion and state. Many of the young people who are not politicised do not understand the debate because it is inscribed in the society. There is a turn backwards with the Islamists who want Islam as the religion of the state. There was some ambiguity and this debate should take place in the constituent assembly.

I read recently the remarks of an Algerian lawyer who emphasised the importance of secularism…

Of course. Ghanouchi will not change the laws but the societal practices, so that in ten years, they will say that the law is no longer in compliance and it has to be changed! We know how a society changes; stop taking us for teddy bears! Tunisian Jews have remained very attached to Tunisia; there are Christians, Buddhists, and atheists. Even if they are only 5%, they have the right to live in peace, and in any case the society has the right to live freely.

And not to mention that secularism preserves the diversity of a society and in so doing ensures its cohesion, avoiding the creation of minorities that will ultimately rebel if they are discriminated against.

That's the slogan I tried to disseminate in Tunis. I streamed my film on Dailymotion in Tunisia, with the phrase: secularism protects all religions and safeguards us from religious extremism.

You are now involved in a lawsuit, following the charges that you made. What is the argument behind these charges?

Violation of the sacred, of accepted standards of behaviour, and of religious teachings. Two months after the revolution an Enaahda lawyer managed to have porn sites blocked on the Internet, when everything was open, with the purpose of restricting freedom. He went on television to say that I had insulted Islam and Muslims. It's easy to insult me having succeeded in banning my film in Tunisia. There were even demonstrations against me. My best defence is my film: Tunisians who saw it were disappointed because they were expecting something scandalous. I do not know what to do since the Islamists are able to turn everything I say against me. I only have my voice! I have been able to hold on because I have a great deal of support, but I cannot disseminate my point of view. The press has returned to the era under Ben Ali, ululating Ghanouchi by calling him "Sheikh" from every direction.

You find yourself in a very lonely place as you bring a particular vision to cinema: within a confrontation of ideas you put yourself on the screen and assume your relationship with the people who are filmed.

But hasn’t that always been the case? I do not subscribe to a lackey cinema: I have complete freedom, at the risk of being wrong. The documentary film gives instant gratification: during the filming, while editing, etc. The fiction film suffers from the shackles of the script, and during the editing process as one could not do what one wanted because of the lack of means. I film with almost no money, with no pay and with the difficulties of completing the film, but that suits me. I did not want to hide behind the camera. I was asked why I did not go see so-and-so, but I make documentaries to give my opinion. One has forgotten what political cinema is!

Politically-committed filmmaking is criticised for telling people what to think but people are enraptured by Michael Moore who thinks for the spectator by fragmenting the words of the people who are filmed.

I try never to hide my intentions. Even if I film while saying that I am not, I keep my actions in the film. If I walk into a café among people who are not fasting [during Ramadan] it is so that it cannot be said that this reality does not exist. In my film Bedwin Hacker, I was told that this is not true. Here, this is real. I had to film the argumentation that took place between us, although I realise that they have the right not to want to be filmed. Of course I tried to ensure that their faces could not be recognised.

When you are accused of throwing oil on the fire, and of encouraging the Islamists, ultimately what is at stake is the question of a compromise or of their radical positions. You refused to compromise, at the risk of losing the fight.

Yes, because in politics, it's alright to lose. We can make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. It is a defeat for the left in Tunisia, which did not even uphold its values. It cannot even say that the society was not ready to accept its position! It did not take a position! As if the people were not intelligent enough to debate. For me, everything is urgent; everything goes forward at the same time. Everything is connected. In order to have political freedom, freedom of conscience is the first of freedom.

The Constituent Assembly is elected for one year before returning to the polls: Is this the time for public debate?

They have one year to put the broken pieces back together. I was against the union or national coalition. In a year, Tunisia will not be back on its feet yet. So I was in favour of letting them govern, even knowing that it would be chaos. However, in the Constituent Assembly, the opposition could have 60% because they have only 40% of the seats. This allows opposition to unjust laws. If there's a coalition, everyone will suffer the consequences.

*August Blanqui disseminated his ideas through his journal Ni dieu ni maître (Neither God nor Master) founded in 1880. The expression became the anarchist slogan and to a lesser extent other elements of the labour movement.

*Rached Ghanouchi, a moderate Islamist, is head of the Ennahda, the leading party in Tunisia.

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