PARIS: Algerian director and producer Aissa Djouamaa (whose first feature film, “Cilima” was made under his “artist name” Aissa ben Said) may have chosen to keep his distance from the media, but he nonetheless remains a deeply committed artist, both behind the camera and on the ground. He is recognized as someone who initiated a major and profound change in the film industry of his native country, Algeria.
Perseverance is one of Djouamaa’s major qualities. Rejected by the School of Dramatic Art of Algiers because of his unsatisfactory marks in the baccalaureate, he decides to study biology for four years, but his passion for cinema does not weaken. Thus, in 2007, he made the decision to integrate the Higher School of Arts and Cinema of Tunis.
“I enrolled there with the intention of becoming an actor. But when I discovered the world of cinema, I started to concentrate on the image, the setting and the writing”, says- he does.
Djouamaa placed first in his promotion for two consecutive years before encountering a major problem. “I realized I was drawn to worrying social issues, to topics that weren’t meant to be discussed,” he says. “I decided that for my final project, I would make a film about the aggressive police attacks that took place during the local derby between Tunisian football teams Espérance Sportive de Tunis and Club Africain.” However, he was unable to obtain the necessary clearance, so his film was never completed.
In the summer of 2010, Djouamaa traveled to Algeria to produce his first short film “Un Cri Sans Echo” (Un cry sans echo), focusing on marginalized musicians living in Souk Ahras, the artist’s hometown. The film was screened at the Doc festival in Tunis in April 2011, just months after then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted at the start of the Arab Spring, and earned Djouamaa his diploma.
On his return to Algeria, he encountered many problems, mainly financial. “I worked as a sales consultant for a multinational company. Every time I had a vacation I would make a short film, ”he says. “I also taught at the Office des Établissements de Jeunes, which produced my first film.
Djouamaa’s second film, “Colors, the country and me”, was about a hero of Souk Ahras: Taoufik Makhloufi, the only Algerian to have won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“This is the new generation that sees Algeria from another angle,” he said. “It was time to write a new page in the history of Algeria seen through the eyes of this generation.
In order to emphasize a vision different from that of traditional non-fiction filmmakers, Djouamaa then decided to participate in his own documentary. “Talking about Algeria’s 50th independence day does not necessarily mean talking about the Algerian revolution as such, but rather about what Algeria has gone through, from independence to today,” he said. he.
Djouamaa was beginning to make a name for himself in his native country. In 2014, he participated in the first laboratory of the French Institute in Algiers and his film “Makash Kifach No Way” was broadcast on French television. The following year, he quit his job and traveled to Canada to participate in KINOMADA – a non-profit film production platform – and to shoot his first fictional film, the short film “We Return to Paradise ”, which featured a rabbi, a priest and an imam. “I never thought of presenting it in Algeria, because the subject (exploring the merits of art against religion) remains taboo.”
In 2016, he participated in a summer program at the famous La Fémis film and television school in Paris. There, he filmed the Place de la République during the “Nuit Debout” demonstrations against the new labor laws. “It has always been the French production of documentaries on Algeria,” he says. “It was time for an Algerian to make a documentary on France.
His experiences in Canada and France inspired Djouamaa – despite Algeria’s “suffocating bureaucracy” – to create his own production company, Nouvelle Vague Algérienne. And it is his second short fiction film, “Un homme, deux théâtres”, which sees its notoriety grow outside Algeria.
“This film was the door to international recognition,” he says. “It has been screened all over the world. I even received an award for it in Madagascar.
At the 2017 Carthage Film Festival, Djouamaa met members of the Algerian Ministry of Culture, which only reinforced his belief that he was operating outside the mainstream media in his country. “They wondered: ‘Who is this foreigner, so unfamiliar with Algerian society, who doesn’t seem interested in who we are?’ He said.
But he gets on better with the director of the Algerian commission, which allocates funds to filmmakers, obtaining funding for five projects. He then shot his first feature film “Cilima”, which he described as a “one of a kind film” which combined stories created by four young filmmakers from all over Algeria.
“Cilima” is typical of the ideals of the Algerian New Wave, aimed at reviving Algerian cinema.
“I am an artist who recognizes the enormous potential of the younger generation. The Algerian New Wave is not limited to producing projects that speak of Algeria today. It’s quite an educational project. We are trying to make a change, ”he explains. “I am a resolutely committed artist, a member of Hirak. I have always refused to be part of the entrenched system.
This system in Algeria, he explains, “was based on revolutionary films, subsidized with huge sums of public money. Algerian cinema reached its peak with the Palme d’Or awarded in 1975 to Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. Then came the black decade which saw the number of cinemas drop from 500 to just 40. ”
Djouamaa hopes to see Algerian cinema reborn. With two other producers, he created the Basma Collective. “In this country, we lack film schools,” he explains. “It is extremely important not to cut corners. We are in the process of setting up Timi Lab – a writing development company – in Timimoun, in the Algerian Sahara, with the help of funds from the international film industry. We are also preparing an African and Arab festival called Timi Film Days.
As for his own production, Djouamaa is currently developing a documentary which, according to him, “will destabilize the current system, in particular its relations with France”. It revolves around the history of the village of Reggane, site of the French nuclear tests between 1960 and 1968.
“I decided not to make a historical film, but rather to bring my creative touch,” he says. “The story is that of an association that contacts an international law firm (in connection with the Reggane tests). The latter lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Clearly, the Algerian New Wave of Djouamaa is determined to make waves.