There aren't very many films being made out of the Republic of Chad. There are even fewer filmmakers. On the opening night of the 21st annual Cascade Festival of African Films, festival organizers will host Chad's multiple award-winning director Matamat-Saleh Haroun for a screening of his new film, "A Screaming Man." The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the coveted Jury Prize. It has gone on to win the Silver Hugo Award for Best Screenplay and Best Actor at the 46th Chicago International Film Festival and was recently awarded Best French-Language Film Outside France at the 2011 Lumiere Awards.
The film follows the life of Adam, an ex-swimming champion who loses the job he's held for 30 years to his own son. Adam is then swept up in the country's brutal, long-running civil war.
On Wednesday, Jan. 27, Haroun spoke with The Skanner News from France about the film, the difficulties of making films Chad and how he (nearly) single-handedly brought cinema back to his home country.
"A Screaming Man" will premier in Portland on Friday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd. as the opening night film for the Cascade Festival of African Films. Haroun is scheduled to be there in person to discuss and answer questions about his film. Other films in the festival will screen through March 5 on Fridays and Saturdays (with some Thursday matinees). Visit http://www.africanfilmfestival.org/ for a full schedule of films and times.
The Skanner News: Thank you for speaking with us today. Please, tell me what kind of story you tell in your new movie, "A Screaming Man."
Mahamet-Saleh Haroun: It's a story about a father who is a little bit old and a son who both work in the hotel around the swimming pool, master of swimming pool it is called. The hotel has been taken over … he seems a little bit old for the part, they decide to fire him and let his son become the new master of the swimming pool. All of this is framed against a civil war, because this story has been inspired by the fight we had in 2008 in Chad, when the rebels came in from Sudan against the government forces and so it's a story about that, about life and death.
TSN: Is the story also inspired by your own experiences when you left there at age 18?
MH: Absolutely yeah, by my own experience, three times I was in the civil war. The first time I was around 18 and I had been injured. The second time was in 2006 when I was shooting my previous film, "Dry Season" … the rebels came in town and we had people fighting there for six or seven hours, we had 1300 people dead and we had to stop the shooting. Two years later, in 2008, I was shooting a short film and rebels came in town and there was fighting for three days and a lot of people died there. And I was just lucky, because I had nothing. It's terrible and it's a kind of trauma, so I just tried to tell the story of this situation of something that you cannot control. You feel yourself that you lose your own capacity to manage your own life, to rule your own destiny, your own destiny is not in your hands at all and that's what I'm trying to tell, to show people, how it is, when you're a hostage of this kind of situation.
TSN: It also seems to me that you're telling that aspect of the story in two ways, both when he gets fired, and then again when he is trapped by the war. It's also similar to the situation the father in "Our Father" finds himself in when he is fired and can no longer support his family.
MH: "Our Father" is different. You have the family, wife and two kids, if you compare it to people in Mexico who move to the United States, they leave families, so we have the point of view of those who are staying back. It's not a story about war, it's just a story about how you would feel being a kid and you don't have your father near you because he's left home. It's a question about being parents and how kids without parents be their own sitter, is it possible or no? That is what the story is about in "Our Father." It's very different from "A Screaming Man," but "Our Father," "Dry Season" and "A Screaming Man" always have a problem with the father, because fathers in Africa are very important as they are a kind of reference to yourself, as they are in every society in every community, you free yourself … but they are a kind of example …. I think my stories are about characters who build themselves and find their own way. It's kind of looking for your own liberty.
TSN: Have your experiences in France impacted the way you make films about Africa, about Chad?
MH: No, not at all. I made my schooling in France, but my first (love) with cinema is more Charlie Chaplin, I love John Ford. I have this great French filmmaker Robert Bresson, I see myself very close to him, but my influences are mostly American cinema. It's not the way of French storytelling, it's more American movies. I see myself very close to people like Jim Jarmusch but not really French filmmakers.
TSN: Do you think that American audiences will take away something different from this film than an audience in Chad or France or elsewhere in Europe?
MH: Well, you know, I think sometimes it's kind of like different music, you can consider every music here and listen to it…. I'm bringing something different, a little different, and you open a new window and I think curious people will be interested. It's a kind of film that is dedicated to people who love the world who are just not like living in their own corner and own country and think the world doesn't exist and I think you have these kind of people who travel by seeing movies by seeing another part of the world (through film). …
Making movies is a way to bring a light in the darkness of Chad. … For 30 years we didn't have any cinema theater in Chad and on the 8th of January we had our new cinema theater with a 35 mm film project and digital project because of my movie. The previous one was in Venice and won the jury price. A Screaming Man was at Cannes, you know, the government said, it's impossible, we don't have a cinema theatre, so we can't see this film in Chad, that's won a prize, so they gave like more than $1 million U.S. dollars and they renovate this truant place … in the French Cultural District, because during the Second World War people from Chad worked with Le Clerc, this general from the French army, and my grandfather was part of these troops and they liberate Paris because Le Clerc was the first to liberate Paris, this place is now open and the first screening was with "A Screaming Man." And now cinema is back in Chad because of my work, my experience, and my philosophy just to try to bring life in movies, bringing life to people because it seems like a place of darkness because of this civil war that we had for 40 years.