Cannes 2011: Interview with member of Feature Film Jury in Cannes and Director: Mahamat Saleh Haroun

After participating in the Cinéfondation’s Atelier in 2005 for Daratt last year, Mahamat Saleh Haroun was awarded the Jury Prize at the Festival de Cannes for his film Un Homme qui crie (A Screaming Man). Today, he is a member of the Feature Film Jury.

Following on from your prize in 2010, you are now a Jury member this year. How do you feel about this experience?
I feel very good about it. It is like being selected a second time! The country, which I represent, echoes the concerns of a large festival such as Cannes. It’s a strong message that’s being sent to Africa and the world over: when certain things from this continent captivate people, or tell something about Africa, we want more. This should encourage a fair amount of people and young directors. My presence at Cannes sends a message of love to the people working in cinema in Africa and tells them they haven’t been forgotten.

What memories do you have of the Cinéfondation’s Atelier?

We were looked after, guided in order to meet people. It was a bit like a beginners’ stage, a sort of initiation. We had access to everything, we met members of the Jury, they were very attentive to us and that helped a lot. This enabled us to meet people and once this had happened, I was able to move forward very easily in making films. These encounters have only strengthened with time and that is how one creates a network. The Atelier is a great catalyst.

There are certain recurrent themes in your films, notably the political situation in Chad. Do you think it is easier to treat certain subjects using fiction and cinema?
Yes, it seems to me that with fiction, the author injects a part of themselves, a part of their memory, into it and I really like that. For me, all creations are political, they cannot be isolated from the environment that they were created in. I really like politics because I like manual work and it seems that cinema has slightly moved away from representations of work. Work is where things happen. That therefore leads me to social and political issues.

In 1999, your first film “Bye Bye Africa” dealt with the subject of African Cinema. What do you think of the state of present-day African Cinema?
I’ve filmed the state of cinemas in Chad and in Africa. Things have got worse, numerous countries no longer have any cinema theatres, with the exception of countries like South Africa, Mali or Burkina. The good news, however, is that after the selection of Un homme qui crie (A Screaming Man) at Cannes and the Jury Prize, in January a cinema was re-opened in Chad and named “The Normandy”. It was renovated by the authorities who deemed it necessary to have a place to be able to watch the films. Renovation work is planned for other cinemas too. An audio-visual fee has also been voted in. This is a tax taken from the mobile telephone communication sector to help in the production of films. It’s good news. Therefore, the state of cinema has changed. We also have a film school which is due to open in 2013 in partnership with La Fémis Film School in Paris and other European film schools.

What inspired you to make films?
It was the inaugural image: the face of a beautiful Indian actress in a film, the title of which, I don’t remember. It was my first time at the cinema. The cinema, which must have had about a thousand people in there, was very big and had an open ceiling. For a few seconds I thought the woman was smiling just at me. This smile, this happiness, touched me to such a degree that I started to make films. A while later, when I analysed my films, I realised that I had always reproduced a reverse shot, like the one I saw at the very beginning, with a character looking at the camera. The encounter with this beautiful, exotic woman lead me into the cinematic world!

Do you have any other sources of inspiration?
I am inspired by life! I read a lot of novels, I have senses which are open to everything around me. Phrases or encounters can open a new door for me. For example, one of my projects for next year came to me via a boy I met. I watched him put on a show, he was handicapped and he danced, he just came on the stage and when I saw him – I had a story and I didn’t know how to begin it – he had inspired me.

Is it important for you to transmit a message through film?
Yes, the transmission of a message is the act of creation within oneself. To make a film is to transmit a message, emotions, life almost, I’d say. There is a type of eternity in this transmission. It’s an antidote to death. To transmit is to construct a memory which enables a continuity of things and keeps things alive. It is memory that enables us to tell a story. Therefore it is important that we consider this transmission like a wind, as Sotigui Kouyaté described it, a wind which blows open a door or lifts up a curtain, so that another wind can follow it… It’s the movement of life. To transmit your message, is to sign your name forever in eternity.

Interview by E.B.

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