A 40-year-old self-conscious cop spends a night on duty which will push her over the edge.
Hi Siham, thank you for talking to TNC. How are you handling the lockdown?
Hey guys! Thank you for having me. Well, I’ve been pretty productive, so far. The lockdown first plunged me into a state of anxiety, as the world was closing down and the death rates were escalating rapidly. For a moment I was lost, not understanding what was going on, how long the situation would last for and whether it would permanently affect the world we live in or not. I was also frustrated as several projects of mine were put on hold. But I quickly got a grip on myself and decided I wouldn’t let this noxious atmosphere bring me down. So I imposed a meticulous schedule on myself which allowed me to be productive: I’ve been writing a lot, and I’ve also taken a deep dive into the construction of my professional website, which you will be able to see very soon!
As a filmmaker, is this experience providing you with some creative motivations?
Totally. The last few weeks, I’ve found myself more connected to my inner desires as a filmmaker. This “pause mode” the film industry (and the world in general) is in these days brings me some well-appreciated peace of mind that allows me to concentrate on developing my vision as a beginner filmmaker. My urge to make compelling films that will make a difference in the world has never been more powerful.
Your film “Unf*ckable” has been selected for the 2020 ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?
It’s a great honor, of course. As a matter of fact, “Unf*ckable” got selected to ÉCU as a consequence of being part of Aesthetica Short Film Festival’ selection, which was already an immense distinction. When I heard my film had been seen there by the ÉCU people and they wanted it as well, I was really proud. All the more as I’m a born-and-raised Parisian!
Now that you've graduated from college, are there any nerves or apprehensions about continuing your filmmaking journey?
Not really. I’m a rather self-confident filmmaker who believes in hard work and passion. In this industry, you need to know what your assets are and push them forward as hard as you can. Believe in yourself, because no one else will. Honestly, life has never been more thrilling than since the day I graduated college. It’s 100% uncertain, which makes it 100% stimulating!
What was your time like at the INSAS Film School?
It was extremely helpful. I wouldn’t be able to develop the projects I’m working on right now if I hadn’t studied there and benefited from its advantages. On the one hand, you have the experience that is given to you: the opportunity to try, to make mistakes, to develop your style, which is very precious. And, on the other, you have very precise professional tools that are offered to you, that is two short films. In my case, one documentary (“The Ship of Gold”) and one fiction (“Unf*ckable”), which are the two projects that allow me to step into the industry today. I’m also grateful to my school for making me cross some amazing people’s paths, who became friends and colleagues.
Can you tell me a little bit about “Unf*ckable”, what was the inspiration behind this short film?
“Unf*ckable” is inspired by my relationship with my own body. For a long time, I’ve had a difficult relationship with it, abhorring it for reasons I did not understand. While writing, I understood how much the patriarchal gaze had pervaded my life all the way through my personal environment, in a society that represents women as objects of desire. I understood that, despite my education, values and independence, I was not less exposed to a continuous pressure on my body. That malaise was feeding a silent rage in me, undetectable, that would eventually explode, and it inspired the creation of Loïs, the protagonist of the film.
How important is the collaboration when working on a project like this?
Collaboration is everything. At every single step of the making of a film. On this project, the true milestone for me was the work with the actors, which made me evolve deeply as a young film director. The actors fundamentally changed the film I was planning on making as they influenced the script itself. Let me explain. As far as the construction of the characters was concerned, the writing process took place in two complementary stages. My co-screenwriter and I first focused on the characters’ goals and the evolution of their emotional arc. And then, the second stage of writing was launched when I found the actors. For the character of Loïs (played by Sandrine Blancke) as for the character of Kimya (Bwanga Pilipili), their humanity was directly injected from what the actresses shared from their private lives. Their experience as women greatly inspired the writing.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing “Unf*ckable” to life?
The style of the film arose from this reality-based writing: between documentary and fiction, my team and I worked on something rough to transcribe this pain morphing into violence. But it was essential to combine tenderness and harshness, so as to keep the characters’ emotional dimension. The combination of these two elements probably was the most delicate to render but also the most fascinating: the film had to be rough, but not cold.
Looking back, do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
Oh, yes! First of all, more writing. Always. And second of all, listen to my instincts much more. Lesson learned!
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 11. Honestly, I’ve never considered doing anything else and I’ve never changed course!
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given when you started out?
There is this one piece of advice that has stuck. It was given to me by one of my idols of all times, at a masterclass he was giving in Brussels: the British film director Alan Parker. As I was asking him basically what you are asking me now, he hesitated for a long time before answering: “Know what you want to say.” And he explained that making a movie takes so much time and is so difficult that you absolutely need to know why you’re making it, what you are fighting for, what are the big ideas you want to convey. Making a career as a film director is such a long and trying process that you need to have a deeper motivation that will make you keep going forever, especially when things get hard. I truly believe he’s right. And he’s not the only one to say it. I go by that sentence every day.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer filmmakers about to make their own debut film?
I’m in no position to give any advice to anyone, really! But let me think, I want to answer you. I would say to focus all your energy on the script. If you can’t write properly yourself, find someone who can. If your script is good, the rest will follow very naturally. In school, we tended to neglect scripts and spend a lot more time and energy on visuals. A lot of people can make beautiful images. Less people can tell compelling stories!
What are you currently working on?
On the fiction side, I’m in the early stages of development of my first long-feature film. It’s such an exciting journey! Long, tiring, but so enthralling! I’m co-writing this project with the same screenwriter I’ve worked with on “Unf*ckable”, Étienne Chédeville, and we’re having a blast. I’m still meeting producers, taking the time I need to make a proper decision before embarking upon a ship that will sail for several years. On the documentary side, I’m developing a project in Serbia, which started out as the most unexpected thing ever. What happened was that, right out of film school, I got selected to an international documentary film camp in Serbia, in which you were given three weeks and a team to make a short film. The experience was unique. I fell in love with the people there and became obsessed with going back to Serbia as often as I could. Last, I’m also very much involved in another adventure my three younger brothers and I started, a family crew called La Dynastie, in which we are currently preparing the release of a debut EP we all work on.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from “Unf*ckable”?
People will take away whatever they want, really! Maybe, for those who need it, a dose of courage. I had this young woman coming to me after a festival screening once, all emotional after watching the film, and she thanked me so wholeheartedly I was speechless. I never knew what her story was, but I felt she had taken away some kind of power from the film. To make people feel something when watching your film is really the best you can hope for as a filmmaker.