LA FABRIQUE AT CANNES – Damien Ounouri, “Chedda”

(part of a multi-article series about the 2014 Fabrique des Cinémas program at the Cannes Festival)

THE PITCH: In “Chedda” one woman’s story provides a unique glimpse into the contemporary Algerian family and its contradictions.

Algeria is prominent in your film’s thematics. Why this particular preoccupation with your own country?
I was born of an Algerian father and a French mother. It is therefore a preoccupation by default, because of my birth. I don’t choose thematics, cinema comes to me, it tells me which movie to make and whether to make a documentary film or  a fiction film.

I see cinema through the lens of my history, my sensibilities, my preoccupations. But it is true that I feel stimulated by Algeria, that my senses are exacerbated by it, that I feel “useful,” that I have a lot of movies to make, things to look at and question.

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Tell me about the backstory of “Chedda” and how you will go about producing the film. Also, is the story based on real facts ?
I thought of making “Chedda” because I wanted to work with actress Adila Bendimerard (she appears in 2012’s “The Repentant” by Merzak Allouache). It came from my own desire to reconnect with my generation and this contemporary period, the desire to make a movie that would speak about Algerian society through a woman’s perspective.

Through my discussions with Adila about various possible themes she told me many stories about her family and her entourage in the city where she is from, Tlemcen. Our discussions gave me the starting point for writing  “Chedda,” which is the name of the traditional dress there. We decided that we would write the script together, which allowed me to really get into this closed society, albeit one that is representative of Algeria as a whole.

What’s the latest on this ?
The screenplay is over, we are now seeking financing, and we hope to start shooting by early 2015.

The novelist has read a lot of books by others before writing his own. Does the filmmaker need to watch a lot of movies in order to sharpen his filmmaking skills ?
There are no rules. Personally, I’ve had theoretical training, I studied cinema at la Sorbonne, and I am a self-taught filmmaker. But I am a movie lover, I like a lot of genre movies, even though I have my own references in terms of filmmakers, sure. But there comes a time when you detach yourself from all that, when influences are digested and you’ve built your own outlook and your own ethic in creating your project, in keeping with your own sensitivities and your own history, when you reveal yourself, you feel free and you express yourself. It’s a place where masters remain masters but they also become colleagues, friends, like the elders of the family advising the younger ones.

That’s in fact the fact with Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke, who helped me a lot with “Fidai,” as co-producer as well as artistic adviser.

Bu depending on the film I am shooting I’ll go back and watch specific titles. For example, the challenge with “Chedda” is in how to direct the actors. A filmmaker like Cassavetes is particularly inspiring to me in this regard.

You’ve already covered a lot of ground with “Fidai,” from what I’ve seen
I am very happy with the progress of “Fidai,” about its extended life on the festival circuit, of the challenges that we’ve faced with my team in spite of our limited means.

What are your expectations this year in Cannes
This will be my first time in Cannes. I’ve never wanted to go there without having something to contribute. I am expecting discoveries, encounters, sincere exchanges, and, of course, cinema.