“Please don’t under estimate the impact of a film festival: it really brings people closer to each other and it creates friendships”
Karim Traïdia is an Algerian-Dutch director, laureate at Cannes, Utrecht Festival, Rotterdam IFFR, Berlin and Mostra Viva del Mediterrani. He has been nominated for the Golden Globes and the Oscars for his film The Polish Bride (1998), and he has been the chosen director to inaugurate the cycle Cinema Mediterrani als Aragó with the premiere of his film Chronicles of my village. We talked to him about his filmography, about identity and about the Mediterranean.
Esma Kucukalic/FACM, 01.06.2017
In your film Chronicles of my village, first premiere in Spain, you explain through the eyes of a child a very complex conflict. Do you have in children a common thread in your films?
The child I was, the child we were, dreamed of a bright future, a future where he could achieve all his simple dreams. It was not a dream that came out of the blue, we have been promised that an independent Algeria will take care of all her children. No one will be forgotten. Seeds of hope have been planted in my head but these seeds have never given buds, neither flowers nor plants, they have remained seeds, until today! I myself was off course too young to participate in the liberation war, so I dreamed of my father joining the guerrilla and fight against France, I hoped and wished him killed by the French army so I would be a son of a martyr e been told that sons of martyrs will have it all at the independence. At the other hand I missed my father very much, maybe not him but a father figure, a guide, someone I could love and who would care about me, someone like Francois the french soldier, my friend, the enemy of my country. I was feeling ashamed of having him as a friend but I liked him and I didn’t know how to deal with this dilemma! So I tried to solve it with this film. I tried to solve all the child’s problem with this film.
How did you start to tell stories?
The whole village was a story teller. I remember that we use to gather around an older man and listen to his stories. But my uncle was the one who inspires me a lot. I believe that he is the one who inspired me and gave me the tools to be a story teller. He used to tell us stories and the deal was that we must say ehhum (which means And???) after each sentence. If one of us don’t say ehhum he’ll stop telling. He used to create and make up stories, so sometimes he doesn’t know how to go on, so he stops and says that we didn’t say ehhum. So he says: go to bed, think about how the story goes on and tell me tomorrow, so I’ll find out who didn’t say ehhum. I’ll find which one was not listening. Off course we spend hours thinking and creating a follow up to his story. A day later each one us (my brothers and I) we tell him our version. He listens and says: I think I know who was not listening yesterday but it doesn’t matter, I’ll go on with the story. He goes on using fragments of each one of us. Some times my uncle goes to the cinema, he watches a film and when he returns to the cité where we lived, he begins telling the film and using gestures and attitudes and voices. I still see him standing in front of us and telling the whole film and it was from me as if I was in the cinema.
How did cinema come to life?
I was very curious, I always wanted to know more than all the other children of the village. I used to ask a lot of questions. Beside that I could tell with images, I had a strong visualisation of actions and could describe people with a great exaggeration sometimes. Charlot (Charlie Chaplin) was the first inspiring character. I was crazy about him, I remember everything he did in a film and how he did it but I couldn’t imitate him. But if someone imitates him I immediately knew if it was good or not. I didn’t know what a director was or a screenwriter or a DOP, for me Charlie Chaplin did everything himself. Cinema
The cinema came to live first in my head at the age of 18/19 years, when my brother Hakim (who is an actor and who played in 3 of my films) began playing small roles in the cinema and the stage (theater.) It is by discovering his passion for the profession of actor that I discovered my passion for cinema. My brother Hakim is a real artist, he never worked (a commun work with a salary etc…) he started at a very young age by drawing and imitating Chaplin. Then he learn himself the mime and pantomime. He starts earning money by making people’s portraits on street, then mime on street… I think he is more story teller than I, he is more complete than I, he draws, he mimes, he acts, he plays music. My daughter Aischa is a singer, a great voice , and my nephew Tarik (Hakim’s son) is a film director as well.
I am a mediterranean and I have more feel for drama and poetry than people from the North. I also have another rhythm and another temperament than people from the North, all this I share with mediterranean people but I can’t say that we have an mediterranean identity.
What are the topics you usually deal with in your films?
I have find out that Identity, (in)justice and the recognition come back often in my my work (film or theatre – yes I directed 12 theatre plays.) I really don’t know why, it surely has something to do with my childhood.
What worries you exactly about identity?
A strong identity can be very dangerous I think, especially when it is a religious identity. I believe that in a society where identity is not very strong, there are less problem, the problems are very little. I remember when I left Algeria (in 1976) and arrived in Europe (first France then Holland), I was first an Algerian migrant, then an Arab, then an invited worker, then a stranger, but I always was seen as an Arab or Algerian migrant..until the first Gulf war. I was seen as a Muslim all of the sudden. Muslim became an identity in the eyes of Europe. What worries me is this! The Muslim is seen as the enemy of democracy, of freedom of speech, of modernism, he is the terrorist. It took me more than 20 years to integrate completely, to not be only the Algerian, the Arab, the Muslim but much more than that, to be part of the society I lived in. And I was back to where I was 20 years ago. And you know where it hurts the most: that is that you have to make a choice, to choose side while you are both sides.
I wrote a script that deals with identity, about a man who looses all his references and become a man with an Identity Zero (tittle of the film.) And as long as nobody bothers him with his background and origins, he’ll live very happy! But if they find out about his real roots…problems begin.
Is there a Mediterranean identity?
I strongly believe that identity has also to do with the place where we live. I am a mediterranean and I have more feel for drama and poetry than people from the North. I also have another rhythm and another temperament than people from the North, all this I share with mediterranean people but I can’t say that we have an mediterranean identity. I don’t think that such a thing exists. My first identity is film maker, my second is Karim then Traidia (which I share with hundreds of family members) then Besbes my village and so on.
Do you think that initiatives like Cinema Mediterrani als Aragó are important to buid citizenship and dialogue?
The place I feel home is on a film set or o stage, or behind my laptop and thes places can be everywhere.
A film festival is mainly a meeting place. A place where we can meet, exchange ideas. Ten films in a festival are ten visions of the world that is shared and talked about by thousands of spectators. Knowing the other through a film from somewhere else can create a better comprehension of the other, can lead to a discussion, a dialogue. What we have in common and what brings us closer becomes more important tan what moves us away.
The 31st of May, the Foundation Asamblea de Ciudadanos y Ciudadanas del Mediterraneo gave me the opportunity to show my film to a Valencian audience and I am very happy and thankful because the audience has shared my childhood with me, my very very little village, a piece of my past. Isn’t that not wonderful?
Please don’t under estimate the impact of a film festival: it really brings people closer to each other and it creates friendships. Since I started making films, I have traveled in more than 30 countries and I met thousands of people and I have the feeling that they understand me and I understand them. Thank’s to film festivals. An initiatives like Cinema Mediterrani als Aragó are important platforms. We may be different one from another, nothing wrong with that because each one of us is unique, but as long as we come together and talk with each other, I am very optimist. The 31st of May, the Fondation Asamblea de Ciudadanos y Ciudadanas del Mediterraneo gave me the opportunity to show my film to a Valencian audience and I am very happy and thankful because the audience has shared my childhood with me, my very very little village, a piece of my past. Isn’t that not wonderful? My village Besbes and the child I was lives now also in Valencia!