On his film Wesh Wesh. Qu’est-ce qui se passe?. « A war against the poor »

Interview with Rabah Ameur Zaïmèche, by Taina Tervonen

Paris, May 2002
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Rabah Ameur Zaïmèche returned to make his first film on the Bosquets housing estate where he grew up, « a boss’ son amongst workers’ sons, which made me who I am », as he puts it. He gathered the funds needed to make the film, which was shot by a tiny crew of 2 to 3 technicians and one camera, by selling his share in the family business. It took a year to shoot, a year to edit, « to take the time needed », then another year to find a distributor.
Wesh Wesh. Qu’est-ce qui se passe? was finally released between the two rounds of the French presidential elections (see review in Africultures 49). In a climate marked by the whipping up of the theme of insecurity, he offers a different view of the deprived suburbs and their « street crews « , who are often seen to be the main culprits behind the estates’ rising violence.

The housing estates filmed at night are strikingly beautiful, in stark contrast with the general dilapidation seen in the daytime sequences.
In the daytime, you see the raw reality of the estates, which have fallen into total abandon because the inhabitants have had their sense of responsibility taken away from them. Everything is dictated from on high. When these neighbourhoods were built, they forgot to create neighbourhood councils, meeting places where people could discuss and take decisions concerning their day-to-day lives. Democracy does not take place in the stairwells.
But at night, the estate becomes spectacular, like a ship full of dreams, with its lights ablaze, like dreams that encourage people to keep going. People often treat the inhabitants of poor districts as if they were lobotomised, when they in fact represent a richness and an extraordinary cultural contribution to French society. That is what we tried to highlight in the night sequences. The new urban culture born in the suburbs out of a blend of people’s native cultures and French culture is becoming increasingly prominent, what with rap, hip hop, dance, my film… And with a real political discourse soon too I hope.
Why did you choose to mask the faces of the policemen who appear at the start of the film?
We wanted to inverse the television images that normally pixelate the street youths. We wanted in turn to question the police – who are they, what do they want? As part of the State machine, the police’s main task is to defend the ruling classes’ established order. We wanted to sow confusion, to question the police’s identity, to take our turn to stigmatise them. It is not normal for them to be so omnipresent in poor districts. It gives the impression that there’s a curfew, a state of war against the poor. Delinquency and insecurity exist everywhere, not just amongst the working classes. The real insecurity is the social insecurity that comes from lack of job security, social exclusion, unemployment, a failing school system, and the lack of understanding of other cultures.
The relationship between the youths and the police is based on constant provocation.
Yes, but it is a pretty intimate relationship too. They belong to the same sphere, are fascinated by the same brute force and violence.
Why are there so few young women in the film?
The world of the stairwells is a male, violent, reactive universe. The street posses don’t like their sisters to hang out with them. Girls indeed tend to get ahead better. The lads get trapped in dead-end spirals.
How hard was it to get the film distributed?
We only managed to interest the distributors once we won an international prize at Berlin, even though the film had been ready for a year. The film has now been released in 35 movie theatres in France, most of which are art house cinemas that are predominantly frequented by the cultivated, well-off classes. The street crews go to see films in the multiplexes, but there is a kind of boycott on the part of the multiplex theatres at the moment, despite the fact that the film has been a financial success. The official argument is that it might cause violent outbursts. But the film encourages reflection, not violence.
I believe that the people in power use film distribution, rather than creation, how it is distributed, to block it, to impose a norm. I have also noticed an immediate desire to co-opt us, to slot us into an existing, classic schema, which I completely refuse. We want to remain in control of our action.
Are you already working on a new project?
Yes. It’s the story of a Portuguese lad who converts to Islam and gets thrown out by his parents. He and his friends turn a disused cellar into a mosque. After a spiral of vicissitudes and injustices, things end in drama… The film offers another vision of Islam. It is not acceptable for people to know so little about, to stigmatise the country’s second largest religion. They refuse to build mosques on the housing estates. They prefer to leave them in the cellars where they can’t be seen, where they are dangerous. Wouldn’t it be better for this religion to be visible in order to avoid misunderstandings and confusion? It is another way of undermining us.

///Article N° : 5631


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