Cannes Film Festival
Short Film Corner 2021
Feeling uprooted and disconnected since beginning his new life in Canada, Ousmane, a Burkinabé living in Montreal, has his humdrum life take a turn when he begins an unexpected friendship with Edith, an elderly woman living in his building.
Hi Jorge, it's great to talk to you again, how have you been during these strange Covid times?
I believe last year’s events will be remembered as the tipping point of a whole generation, as it forced us to see life through a completely different lens. Personally, besides the tragic events and so much grief, the forced slow down had a good impact on my work. Before the pandemic, I felt a pressure to “perform and share” what I was doing, but when you’re a writer/filmmaker everyone knows good things take time, and I found that time last year.
Have you used this time to take on any new creative opportunities?
Besides sharing music playlists every day for the first 45 days of the pandemic, I managed to finally finish developing a TV series’ bible I had been working on for the past 5 years, and I wrote the first draft for my next feature film. The uncertainty about the future forced me to stay in the present, and staying present made me focus on the work process, rather than on the possible outcome of my projects.
The last time we spoke you were starting your festival run for Kinship which went onto win multiple awards including Director of the year, Gala Dynastie 2020, did you imagine you would get such an incredible reaction to this film?
To be honest I did not expect such a warm reception for Kinship. That said, I do believe that “all” it takes is a few people who can look beyond the form, and read between the lines to see the truth in what I was trying to portray. In the end, there’s no such thing as “a perfect film”; trying to go for perfection would probably create an artificial feeling when real — imperfect — life is being portrayed.
I owe a lot to Stephanie Demers at Fragments, my distribution company, who took good care of my film and made it shine on many fronts.
Also, one of the turning points for the film was the selection at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where Céline Roustan and Linton Melita programmed Kinship and nominated it in many awards categories. Sometimes that’s all you need, one person who can open a door, so others can see the value of your work.
What do you think it was about Kinship that connected with people so much?
I wrote Kinship during a very difficult time. I lost my brother, I was going through a period of financial instability due to switching careers between photography and filmmaking. So, overall, it was a period filled with a lot of vulnerability. A vulnerability that created a lot of “writer’s blocks”. At that moment, I decided to look at my fears and anxiety the same way I look at natural elements like water and fire. The same water that we drink can also kill us in a drowning accident, and the fire that keeps us warm, can also burn us. But both elements are neither good nor bad.
So I started looking into my fears and anxiety the same way: neither are good nor bad, it just depends on how I use it. I used Rabah’s character (the father) to explore the same feelings I was experiencing at the time, and I can say that I have never been as honest before. That’s why I believe so many people connected with the story, because I wrote it from a place of truth.
© Julie Caron
Congratulations on having OUSMANE part of this year's Short Film Corner, how does it feel to be able to present your latest short film at Cannes?
It’s great to have Ousmane’s world premiere at Cannes Short Film corner 2021! Céline Roustan, the same programmer who selected Kinship at Palm Springs Film Festival, read the script for Ousmane and invited me to apply to Cannes’ 2021 Work-In-Progress workshops. In the meantime, I was in post production for the project when a programmer at Cannes extended the invitation for the Short Film Corner. It was not planned, but I love when things workout organically.
How did OUSMANE come and what was the inspiration behind this film?
My creative process is still a mystery for me. It always starts with a flash, like a day-dream, where I see the whole film play out before my eyes. I see characters, blocking, turning points, etc. In the beginning everything is in third person and as the story evolves it becomes more and more personal.
Between 2012 and 2019 I didn’t go to Brazil, and those seven years were very difficult because I couldn’t see or take care of my relatives, especially the elderly ones. I believe I use fiction to address situations that I can’t find a solution for in real life. I couldn’t take care of them, and I believe Ousmane came to me as a response to my need to address those feelings of distance, time lost and longing.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film and looking back is there anything you would do differently on your film?
There wasn’t a specific scene that was too challenging or that I would have changed. Short film budgets are very tight, we constantly work against time constraints and have to fit a lot of scenes in one day. My only wish would have been to have a bit more time to appreciate the magic happening around me, as crew and actors help to achieve what only existed inside my head.
I think that if you ask any filmmaker, I believe the answer would always be the same, we would probably reshoot our films in different ways, but I believe that each project is a necessary learning curve that takes you to the next project. So whatever things I learn in the process, I will apply to the next project instead of trying to change the one that is already done.
How much has your passion for filmmaking changed since your debut film?
There’s a correlation between my self discovery and my passion towards filmmaking. Filmmaking continues to bring me the joy of understanding who i am, my past experiences, and seeing my life through a different lens. And that’s a feeling that I don’t ever want to give up.
"Every time I mentioned his name most people thought it was impossible to get him to come to Canada, especially in the middle of a pandemic."
Was your approach to OUSMANE different from how you approached Kinship?
I don’t think my approach changed from my latest projects. With Kinship I wanted to show the vulnerability through the eyes of a young boy and for Ousmane I chose to show the other end of the scale, showing vulnerability from the eyes of an elderly person. I believe that both films bring interesting discussions about abandonment and belonging through different perspectives.
Is there any advice you wish you had been given before you started shooting your film?
Actually, I received some advice that I’m glad I didn’t listen to. I wrote Ousmane’s role for Issaka Sawadogo — an amazing actor with lead roles in many international productions including Adu (Netflix, 2020) The Knight Of The Kings (2020), etc — and had no idea how to get in touch with him. Every time I mentioned his name most people thought it was impossible to get him to come to Canada, especially in the middle of a pandemic. I saw Issaka’s work in the movie Diego Star (2013), and his sense of humanity marked me forever. During Kinship’s film tour I met an actor who asked me what I was working on. I mentioned Ousmane’s story and told her I wish I could work with Issaka. She looked at me and said: “Oh, I know him! I will get you his direct contact info.” At first I was not sure I should believe this, but about two weeks later, she sent me his phone number! We got in touch. I introduced myself, explained the story and sent him the script. He fell in love with the script, and we worked remotely on the project for a whole year until he finally arrived in Montreal for the shoot. From the moment I saw him arriving at the airport, I knew that my instinct was right all along. It was the most incredible experience of my life.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your OUSMANE?
I hope people can take away the spirit of humanity that can unite us despite our differences.