25/05/2013

Mohamed Hamidi, Franco-Algerian director of Homeland

"The important thing is what I say, not where I shot it"

Algeria

Mohamed Hamidi, Franco-Algerian director of Homeland

Mohamed Hamidi was the only Algerian filmmaker to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival this year. His French film Homeland, shown at a Special Screening during the festival, tells the story of his father and of his return to Algeria. 

Algerian daily L'Expression spoke to the angry filmmaker, who hopes one day to be able to shoot in Algeria.

 

Homeland is a film about identity and integration. Why shoot this film now?

Actually, it's a story I wanted to tell a long time ago. It's the story of my father and of his relationship with Algeria. 

It's a country I knew very little about. I started to discover it at the age of 28-29, when my father was sick. I realised that this country was important to him and important to me.

For me, it was mostly the images of a teenager. I did not go to Algeria, because it was the dark years. When I was 18, there was the military service and then terrorism, and it's true that the teenager that I was preferred to spend his holidays in France.

But as I grew older, I discovered that it was my country and that I wanted to rediscover it. So I returned to Algeria. I reclaimed my father's house and my family's small plot of land. They're my roots!

Today, it makes sense. I have children and I realise that transmission is important and I do not want to cut this legacy, I wanted to carry it with me. Algeria is part of me and I want to accept it.

Your film was entirely shot in Morocco. Why this choice for a story that is totally Algerian?

When I first wanted to shoot in Algeria and I started looking into it, I went to see Merzak Allouache, I went to see an Algerian producer.

I had little money with which to shoot the film, and Merzak Allouache told me: "In Algeria, it can go very well. I've made films with local teams and all possible permissions, but sometimes I've struggled, sometimes I've waited for a permission for two weeks, sometimes I haven't got the teams on site. "

I did not have the means to work like that, because it was my first film. 

As the film is set in the Algerian countryside, in order to be efficient, I wanted somewhere with well developed film production structures. But I longed to actually shoot in Algeria.

There is one frame shot in Algeria, the landing at Zenata airport, but it was a hassle. The image lasts 12 seconds, and this was thanks to Air Algeria and the airport. We had to intervene and we got it.

I am very proud to have an Algerian image in the film. This is important. I encourage the Algerian government, Algerian producers and French filmmakers who want to shoot in Algeria and who are afraid to go there!

Morocco has over 30 years of experience. They have shot American films, they have facilities, and there are even incentives to bring you back to Morocco to film.

I really encourage directors to go and shoot in Algeria. 

I had dreamt of shooting in my village, in my father's house in Mzaourou and Nedroma, but frankly I would not have had the necessary support and structures on the spot! There are no on-site technicians. I did look into it. I did try... I was not well enough established in Algeria to do so.

I know that some films are shot in Algeria. Djamel Bensalah shot in Algeria, [but] it was difficult. He had to finish filming in Morocco, and it was more expensive. I didn't want to run that risk. 

For me, the important thing is what I say, not where I shot it!

I follow Algerian cinema. I know it's growing. I know that it's not necessarily supported [by the state]. Yet I hope it will develop because there is talent. People need to be supported. In France, there is the CNC [National Film and Moving Image Centre], in Morocco there is the CCM [National Film Centre] which help filmmakers to make their films. In Algeria, there need to be similar bodies to help Algerian filmmakers make short films....

But there are instances of public film funding in Algeria...

Yes, but are they democratic enough? Are they accessible enough? Do these subsidies go to the right artists? Are they looking for real talent?

We must stop this vengeful, aggressive attitude. We have to be positive. We have a beautiful country, beautiful youth, pride and a great history. It should be used in our favour. We really need to open up a little bit!

What do you have to say today as an Algerian filmmaker living in France?

I hope we encourage all people who have something to say about Algeria and who want to tell their stories in an open and intelligent way. I think we should give them the means to do so. 

I think there is a real strength in Algeria, in its comedians and humourists. Real talents should be revealed, not friend-of-friends of people with influence in Algerian television or the culture ministry. The talented, not the well-connected, should be put forward. We must stop this policy of nepotism... You have to take those who are good, who are more serious, and give them a chance.

 

Source and photo: L'Expression

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