Hicham Ayouch is both French and Moroccan, born to Tunisian and Moroccan parents. Strongly attached to the African continent, he considers himself as an African of the Diaspora. A former TV journalist, he then wanted to start telling his own stories and that’s how step by step, he ventured into making films and documentaries. His last feature film, FEVERS, won the Grand Prix d’Etalon d’Or de Yennenga, at FESPACO 2015, as well as an award at AFRIFF in Lagos in November 2015. In this interview with Mokolo, he speaks about his film and uses this opportunity in Nigeria to announce his next film project
Mokolo: You are working on a biopic about Thomas Sankara, after finishing a film called FEVERS, can you tell us more about it?
Hicham Ayouch : FEVERS takes place in France, in a french suburb called Noisy-le-Sec in the 93rd department. It tells the story of a little boy, called Benjamin, who is 13 and who lives in a young people’s home and who will discover that he has a dad that he doesn’t know. He will then go live with him and his grand-parents, but it will be difficult because Benjamin is both hypersensitive and smart, yet, very poetic but also very violent. It’s a story about family. How a father learns to become a father and how a son learns to become a son. Beyond that, I was also trying to give a different vision of the suburbs, a quiet poetic and sensitive vision. We tried to show it as a different world than we are used to seeing in fiction films, for example, there is a character of a poet called Claude who lives in a caravan that Benjamin will meet. It’s thus, a movie between a hard cold reality, but at the same time a poetic and sweet one.
M: How has the film been received in France and outside the country?
HA: The film had a small distribution, so it has been hard to screen it everywhere, but it had good critics. Abroad, it won 3 prizes; one at FESPACO at the Golden Etalon of Yennenga Burkina Faso, one at the African Movie Academy Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa and the grand prize at AFRIFF in Lagos. So, it continues to live.
M: You are working on a new film that will be a biopic about Thomas Sankara. What is the objective and why Thomas Sankara?
HA: This character has always fascinated me. Since I was a teenager, I have always been interested in him and as time went on, this took root in me. When we won our Prize at the FESPACO in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which is also the birthplace of Thomas Sankara, I saw this as a sign of destiny, because it’s been more than a year that I have been thinking about it. It may be a bit irrational, and more spiritual, but in our profession, if we are not close to the symbols the we had better change. So, I started to write the script and I have almost finished the first version. I have been in touch with producers, his family, his widow, who is supporting the project, his sister, uncles, people who have been ministers with him and everybody is supporting the project. Ideally, and especially for this movie, it’s important that we get as much as possible from Panafrican funds, whether it comes from States, sponsors or private individuals, because it will pay tribute to the legacy of Sankara and it means they believed in Sankara’s vision. So, if I have to search funds in the USA or Europe for instance, I will do it.
I was saying earlier that I am a dreamer, an idealist, and I find it beautiful to dream because it is from there everything starts. In my ideal world, I would have one major producer, and three or four others that will bring equipment or money from each region of Africa, that would form the perfect mix. Sure we need money, but energy, moral support, either material or human resources are just as important to make a movie successful.
I realize that this project is ambitious and complicated. Some people will fully support the project and others will be happy to bury it. I am aware that I am putting a cat among pigeons by taking the risk. Usually when I start a new project, I never say a word because I am a bit superstitious and secretive, but this time I changed my approach, as I need support from everyone. I was even thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign, if people put 0.5 cents or 1 euro each, that could go far.
You can thus consider this interview as an official statement and launch of my project.
M: You are living between France and Morocco, what is your link with the continent?
HA: Yes indeed, my roots are here, even if I rather consider myself as an African from the Diaspora, it’s a continent that is special for me, because it inspires me and I want to keep doing things here. I already started in Morocco, where I made short films, features and two documentaries. The Sankara project is more about Black Africa. Each time I am here, I feel at home. I feel much more connected with a Mauritanian, a Senegalese, a Chadian or a Burkinabe than with a Lebanese, Jordanian or a Saudi. But I am also proud to be french, and once again I am not excluding anyone. Yes, I do have an arab name as well as origins, but to me it’s more African roots. So yes my cross connection is here.
M: What does the expression ”African Cinema” mean to you?
HA: It’s a bit hard for me to talk about African Cinema, because each country is so different. It’s as if we were talking about European Cinema. It’s complicated to have a global view on things. There are good filmmakers who have made films for more than 50 years on this continent, Djibril Mambety, Ousmane Sembene, Ouedraogo, who are big names and have left cinematic marks. Nowadays, to talk about the development of African Cinema, I am not a specialist, and I don’t have a global enough view on it. But what I know, is that we have to think of the people in the industry, we have to pay salaries and it hurts each time a movie theater is closed. I am not a strong capitalist, but I understand that to make a movie, we need money, we need a box-office, we need commercial movies and the African public has to watch African movies. And it’s true that with a few exceptions especially here in Nigeria, African audiences don’t watch African films. For instance, if you ask a Mauritanian who is Abderrahmane Sissako, only a few people will know him. There is a real issue of disconnection between the Africans and their filmmakers, but it goes with the issue of diffusion. There are not enough movie theatres and unfortunately pirated Bollywood and American films are the norm. In that situation and it’s a default option, I come to think that at least, pirates could copy films made by their compatriots! Because if you make a movie that is not talking to your people, it doesn’t work. The first people we should be talking to are our neighbors, people in our buildings, people of your city, people of your country and finally outsiders. If you don’t talk to them, then something is not working.
M: Do you have any suggestions or ideas to create a balance?
HA: If we want to sustain movie theaters, we need people to come and watch movies. I don’t have any solutions. First, there was the satellite, the satellite dish, then pirated DVD’s and now, there is the Internet, so I don’t know what we can really do. I have no miracle solutions in mind. I know for instance that Nollywood found out a way to be sustainable. It is true that they make more than 4000 movies a year and they are probably not masterpieces, yet this industry works. They work with Nigerian technicians and Nigerian stars. It is an interesting model to follow. I was saying to a producer that I am not against the industry and the studios, we need them both. In Morocco, they are doing well, they produce 20 or 25 films a year. But I really think that it also depends on the economic situation of the country. We talked about Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa, they have industries and they are rich. Generally speaking, the idea is that tomorrow Chad, Sudan or Mauritania can create industries! It’s very difficult to create industries where there is no funding, so in my view it’s a more global issue.
M: To follow your idea of increasing the distribution of African films for an African audience, would you be ready to give your rights for free screenings in Africa?
HA: Of course! Since there is no commercial activity and if it’s for people to access culturally, definitely.
M: You have heard about the Mokolo Project, as a professional is it a tool that you would use?
HA: Yes of course. If I am looking for a team to shoot a movie and if the resources are reliable, I will. The funny thing is that, most of the time when we come to Africa to make a film, the technicians are coming from abroad because of the lack of training here. The issue is that we don’t know each other, even though there are talented people on this continent. So yes, if there is a tool that would be a Koran, a Torah or a Bible that collects all this and helps people from the artistic or production fields to be in touch with each other, that is awesome! Anyway, in this world, we cannot fight the capitalistic monster if we are not united. This is the only chance we have to make it right and we need tools and answers, more concrete than Twitter and Facebook.
M: Last question, do you think Cinema is a vehicle for change?
HA: Yes, in Africa and everywhere else in the world. We, as artists, we have a huge responsibility and maybe more on this continent. Because in other countries, developed and industrial ones, art is known to be of help to create change. Over the centuries, artists have been killed, so yes I think that through the imagination, we have a role to play… Aimé Césaire said: “artists are the lawmakers in the shadow”. I love this sentence. Without falling into a megalomaniac delirium, artists can raise consciousness and we can point out things in a way that politicians or journalists cannot, because thanks to our imagination, we can take people somewhere else. And I think that people develop thanks to this imagination.
M: Thank you very much Hicham. Any last words?
HA: Not really, except that I hope we can have an interview, for the release of the Sankara movie in 2 years time!