French and Algerian youth filmmakers renegotiate Algeria’s image
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The documentary film Un été à Alger (A Summer in Algiers) is a look at Algiers through the lens of four young Algerian filmmakers. The film’s directors, Aurélie Charon and Caroline Gillet, used these perspectives to show how Algeria’s youth are pushing boundaries by questioning societal norms, notions of gender and especially, Algeria’s image across the Mediterranean, in France.
The film was shown as part of Libération’s Forum in Marseille on 19 and 20 April, entitled “Take action today in the Mediterranean region.” The series of debates took a look at issues affecting Mediterranean countries and finding positive solutions.
Documentary filmmakers Aurélie Charon and Caroline Gillet set out to produce a film that offered a new representation of Algeria, a country often misunderstood by its neighbours, France.
Since the Algerian War of independence that ended in 1962, France has very little knowledge of the reality of Algeria today, according to the filmmakers.
Charon and Gillet wanted to tell the story of Algeria through the eyes of Algeria’s youth population, instead of trying to interpret France’s former colony through a foreign perspective.
Un été à Alger uses clips from Algerian filmmakers Yanis Kousim, Hassen Ferhani, Lamine Ammar Khodja and Amina Zoubir, to tell Algeria’s new story – post war – its struggles as well as accomplishments.
“We consider the struggle in Algeria to be that of a daily struggle,” says Fatma Oussedik, an Algerian sociologist who participated in Marseille’s Forum.
Oussedik says one of the primary struggles in Algeria today is how gender rules are being renegotiated. She says Algerian women have worked extremely hard to create gender equality in school, in the workplace and in society as a whole, but governments need to follow suit.
“A country that doesn’t recognise women’s rights has no chance of creating democracy,” says Oussedik.
Filmmaker Amina Zoubir uses her work to push gender norms in Algeria, by entering spaces where women are not usually allowed or welcomed, and by filming reactions to her presence in those spaces. In one shot, Zoubir films herself asking for a blow dry in a men’s hair salon. The barber uncomfortably accepts, but the men waiting in line barely meet her glance. Zoubir wasn’t necessarily surprised by this reaction.
“I am a woman, so normally if I want to go out, I have to bring a man with me,” says Zoubir.
With this perspective in mind, Zoubir says she hopes to portray the collective struggle of women in Algeria, through her own story.
Filmmaker Yanis Kousim says telling one’s personal story is the best way to take action and make changes in society, or to push others to act.
“You don’t have to talk about history with a capital H, but you can tell your personal story,” says Kousim.
Kousim says his films are a start in changing perspectives about his country, but big changes are needed to address joblessness and youth boredom.
“It’s not only the government, it’s not just the problem of corruption,” he says. “It’s everything.”
In the meantime, says Kousim, religion is what helps people get through tough times.
“People need to feel filled by something,” says Kousim. “For now, that’s religion.”
The personal stories in the documentary film are important to making change within Algeria, but also to promote understanding across borders, say the filmmakers.
“France knows nothing about Algeria,” claims filmmaker Hassen Ferhani.
Through images from films by the four Algerian filmmakers, the country, especially the capital Algiers, comes alive. Algeria becomes more than a collection of stereotypes.
For filmmakers Gillet and Charon, filming Un Eté à Alger was a tremendous learning experience. Gillet says her opinion of Algeria changed a lot during the course of filming and the country left its mark.
“I’ve travelled a lot but I still haven’t recovered from going to Algiers,” says Gillet. “I’m still totally under the spell of that city.
“It’s a country that’s very isolated. That’s very striking today in 2013, to not see tourists everywhere,” says Gillet. “I think there’s an urgent need to put Algiers back on the map and Algeria as a whole. There’s a thirst for Algerians to meet the world.”
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