Co-writers and producers of « Paris selon Moussa »

Interview with Cheick Doukouré and Danielle Ryan, by Olivier Barlet

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What were the positive or problematic aspects of producing this film?
Danielle Ryan: Cheick Doubkouré’s work was an asset, with his filmography – in addition to Bako, which made him famous throughout Africa and in which he was the leading actor and writer, he had also done Blanc d’ébène and Le Ballon d’or. We originally had a producer for the film but lets just say that things didn’t work out. So we created together as co-writers, our own company called Les Films de l’Alliance, and we approached everyone who had been involved with Cheick Doukouré’s previous films and knew how good he was – the Ministry of Foreign Affaires, the Agence de la Francophonie, the European Commission and the CNC [French film institute] that offered us a considerable advance on our takings. The advantage with the advance was that it was paid immediately, whereas the other funding got caught up in bureaucratic procedures and took much longer. The film tells the story of a Guinean farmer who comes to Paris to buy a water pump and decides to stay in a church occupied by sans papiers [immigrants whose residency permit has expired or been revoked and who become overstayers]in order to save money. Since the film largely takes place in France, it wasn’t a typical « African » film. It shows the many facets of France’s African community – with or without papers – including Africans who are well integrated into French society.
What was your budget ?
Danielle Ryan: 4.7 million francs (approx. 716,794€). We had an initial budget of 7 million but we had to cut it back. Producer-directors are used to finding compromises that don’t have an effect on the quality, but you have to get your brain working! As a result we had a very small budget and the French producers are all amazed that we succeeded. The technical team participated; the actors were almost always on the union minimum. What made it work was the subject, and everyone’s confidence in Cheick.
Was the subject a problem for funding?
Danielle Ryan: Not for funds providers. On the other hand, it undoubtedly was for television – everyone told us to come back when it had been shot. In just reading the script they were scared it would be too militant. And yet, the demonstrations after the Le Pen vote prove that our subject was extremely topical, that a large portion of the French population was concerned about the notion of respect.
Cheick Doukouré: She’s talking about the film!
Why did you chose this subject?
Cheick Doukouré : I think I’ve remained faithful to what I’ve done since I started making film, starting with Bako l’autre rive in the 70s, which was about illegal immigrants; Black mic-mac; and more recently, Le Ballon d’or which also talks about immigration. According to Moussa, Paris is not all good or bad. The collaboration between Danielle and myself, with our two points of view, tends towards a common line of thinking between Europeans and Africans. We wanted to talk about an existing situation in order to ask the right questions. People might say,  » not sans-papiers again », but who knows what the real reasons for this situation are? We wanted to speak out against the situation for the sake of speaking out but also tell things like they are. It’s a film about tolerance; it advocates respect for human life, in all its variety and contradictions, regardless of skin colour or gender.
It’s true that films about sans-papiers are structured in a very militant manner.
Danielle Ryan: The film has a truly fictional framework. Its gaze is that of the man who initially observes the sans-papiers without sharing in their cause. We have recreated humorous situations and we have taken the characters’ lives beyond their status as sans-papiers. That’s no doubt what makes it different from a documentary.
Cheick Doukouré: Moussa doesn’t think he’s affected because he’s come for a specific reason but he sees their hunger strike and wonders whether it’s really worth it – a residency permit won’t give them the right to live decently in a country with so many problems.
Danielle Ryan: It’s a very daring point of view and only someone like Cheick Doukouré could carry it off. Beyond promises made by a government to individuals, there is the question of the validity of the sans-papiers approach.
Moussa, with his gentle determination and quiet power, is a Check Doukouré junior!
Cheick Doukouré: Every human being feels violence in the face of injustice. Moussa wants to be respected but also respects others. That is probably the film’s strength. It wasn’t an easy subject – we injected our sense of determination into Moussa! The shoot took three weeks in Paris, three weeks in Amiens, and a week in Africa. This implies that the film had to be made under the same conditions as any French film. Initially, we wanted to shoot the film digitally but were concerned that the image wouldn’t be good enough so we used Super 16 instead, which is more expensive…
Why did you decide to use Amiens?
Danielle Ryan: Cheick has often participated in their film festival and has friends there. And, above all, we were offered the use of a church that we could use as a film studio. The government department in charge of historical monuments let us use it. We thought that it had been deconsecrated but it hadn’t. Muslims prayed in it and ate mafé in it, etc. I think that was absolutely in tune with the film! We were really made welcome in Amiens.
You don’t seem to have had much trouble finding venues and funding despite the fact that the theme doesn’t really put France in a favourable light!
Danielle Ryan: State or international funds providers don’t really get involved in domestic issues. At the CNC [national film council], the panel – headed by Frédéric Mitterrand at the time – really liked the screenplay. On the other hand, the subsidies were small. Private funding didn’t necessarily follow. But there was magic about the film! And we had an abundance of willpower. Confidence in the team overpowered any reservations about the subject matter. The film asks a European society to accept a society from another culture. We had to accept our own cultural differences. It’s a way of finding answers to the immigration problem. It’s as achievable as what happened on the film.
I have a better understanding of the character of Nathalie who is unhearing initially and then she opens up.
Danielle Ryan: Isn’t that what happens on the street, in the suburbs? Dialogue is difficult in the beginning but it does become sharper and richer. We can make it become a reality so that we don’t even have to fight for it any more. Nathalie and her mother are larger than life incarnation of a European mentality (they are film characters after all!), which shouldn’t be judged but rather understood. We have to get to the point where we listen to each other. It’s a microcosm for society, and the fact that the film exists means there’s hope for society.
Cheick Doukouré: When you look at what happened in the presidential elections, the film is very, very topical! If there isn’t dialogue, understanding, respect, we end up with the situation on April 21. Moussa isn’t one to give lessons but he tells things like he sees them. When people can talk with each other, it opens up horizons. When we wrote the script we talked a lot in order to understand each other. Cheick Doukouré didn’t have any trouble being Moussa – when he’s with Nathalie he’s already experienced life with Danielle!
How did you meet?
Cheick Doukouré: By chance. But Danielle had written a one-man show and was looking for a black actor. A former actor in Black mic-mac gave her my number. Initially she said, « No, it’s not for you! ». I was upset but she said she saw me in other roles. Since I was working on this film and it wasn’t working that well yet, I asked her if she would rewrite it with me. And we ended up with an entirely different screenplay.
Danielle Ryan: In effect, everything started with « No »! I should have said yes and that would have been the end of it! (laughs)
Nathalie’s relationship with her mother is extremely difficult. Isn’t this a bit superfluous to the story?
Danielle Ryan: The 70-year-old mother is very much representative of what happens with withdrawal and fear. They want to protect themselves mutually and end up suffocating each other. They don’t understand a given factor – the other culture – and that’s what makes them turn inwards. The elections showed that a certain category of people prefer withdrawal to involvement with another culture.
The secondary characters are often caricaturised, forced, without depth. Isn’t humour risky at this level?
Cheick Doukouré: Admittedly they’re not very deep but someone like Naomi, who’s very generous, is on a mission she doesn’t fully master. We can’t go any deeper. We don’t want to be militant but rather to situate human beings. The Chinese guy is a stereotypical restaurant owner. Even immigrants do each other bad turns! It’s hard to take it any further than that but they’re not just there to get laughs.
The immigrants are also criticised at the shelter.
Cheik Doukouré: They haven’t evolved and find excuses for remaining immigrants! Personally, I refuse to constantly bear the misery of being an immigrant. You can’t keep on saying forever that you’ll go home, when you never will. Moussa tells them to « be courageous! »

///Article N° : 5625


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