Breakfast with Chalon
It’s Chalon-sur-Saône, near Lyon. There are several Chalons, so the choice of title was also intentionally ambiguous. My story could very well have taken place somehwere else…
I was born in Chalon and I lived there for twenty years. I started leaving my neighborhood because of my studies. To me it seems important to develop this part because it helps to understand my “story”. A difficult childhood, family issues and failure at school really did not help me. On the other hand, my desire to “pull through”, to make something of my life, to succeed, was growing every day. When I told my social worker that I was going to try the entrance exam for the Chalon art school, she told me that I should stop dreaming because I was never going to make it… And actually the first time I tried, I failed. A year later, I tried again. But this time, I was really prepared and had a real portfolio to present. I was accepted! That is how I started leaving my neighborhood to go study in the city. That is also where I discovered photography. I will never forget the day when I went to the Treasury with my social worker (a different one) to get the money to pay my tuition… I remember I had tears in my eyes. So that’s how it all started.. Then I continued my studies at the art school in Grenoble. So I began leaving Chalon more often. But I kept going back and forth regularly. Even just to see my family and friends from back home. I really left Chalon about ten years later. My family has now moved elsewhere, so I have no ties left. Except of course for a few childhood friends who stayed behind.
Being able to study and go to art school completely changed me. I began to question myself, to question absolutely everything. I wanted to understand everything. One day, I went back home to Chalon and I decided to borrow my brother’s film camera, which, I should say, he never used. I called some friends and we made the rounds of the neighborhood. I started taking pictures, then when I got home, I jotted down everything that had happened. That is when I realized that I was documenting my everyday life, and I thought that was really interesting! So I kept up the process for several weekends. And that is how I continued taking pictures every day of my daily life in order to fill my photographic journal (digital and film). Because I’ve been keeping a journal since 2003, and it now contains over 100,000 images, divided by year, month and day.
Initially, I remember I made my sound recordings with what was at hand: an old tape recorder in a case… Then later, I had access to better equipment. So I was able to edit based on my notes. As for the voice over, at the time, I spoke very poorly. I remember being very a reserved person. And when I spoke, I enunciated words very badly. I mean, I wasn’t much of a talker, so speaking about my everyday life was something of a challenge. I worked really hard on that. Now I’ve become someone different and I no longer have difficulty speaking. As for the soundtrack itself, a sound engineer worked on it.
Actually, this is a new version with new editing, new images and a completely reworked soundtrack. The version I showed to my producers is totally different from the one selected for the Festival. I would even like to say that they are two different films. As such, we removed the temporal aspect with the dates appearing, and a few situations that we thought were less important. And most of all, I really wanted to keep to a short format of less than fifteen minutes. To get back to the initial question, there were several “visits”, during several weekends, spread out over several months. I used only personal photographs.
I’ve been able to go back a few times briefly, but not enough to have any distance. It was actually my friends who told be about all the changes there. I know for example that the Saint-Jean neighborhood (Chalon’s housing project) has been largely renovated. That the mall where we used to hang out was razed, and that the school where I went for example was closed… To be honest, I never had the courage to go back to any of those places because of their bad memories for me. But perhaps I should? In any case, I think about it very seriously…
It came up later on, when we were choosing images in editing. I even hesitated about putting in that part, thinking it would be better to keep to the everyday angle. But in the end, political and social questions are necessarily part of that everyday life! Anyway, that part made the local government grit its teeth (even though they hadn’t seen the film). Clearly, they did not understand that when I criticized the mayor, there was absolutely nothing personal about it. It was just that for a few seconds I had gone back into the shoes of a young local who, like many others, was a bit lost.
You present one very agreeable day that was pervaded nonetheless by a sense of insecurity due to burn marks on the walls. Do you remember that day specifically because of the marks, like something singular yet always lying just beneath the surface, or do think every day was like that, with a feeling of insecurity clouding every moment of the day?
I remember that day a little. Burning garbage cans and cars are the work of only a few people who ruin the lives of the inhabitants. Unfortunately, that is part of their everyday life. It’s like the door to my building that was kicked in one day for no apparent reason. The sense of insecurity was only present when I noticed it. When I went back to Chalon, I looked at my neighborhood differently, and I noticed far too many things. Reality was catching up to me…
It was in that process of wanting to understand everything, to take a step back. So even the smallest detail was important to me. The Naoufel family is from Tunisia and what they gave me to drink is commonly called “red tea” in Tunisia. And I also thought it was funny to briefly bring up the idea of color… in a black and white film.
Why does your character think that the “tracksuit and sneakers uniform no longer suits me”? Is it because of his new social status, or because of his desire to distance himself from the prejudice attached to that outfit?
Now that I think about it, when I was a teenager I didn’t really know how to dress. Obviously I had to look like everyone else in order to fit it. Later on, I gradually gave up that way of dressing initially because of the prejudice, but mostly because it just didn’t suit me. I realized that by trying to look like everyone else, I no longer had my own identity. My social status has not changed either. I wasn’t richer or poorer than before. I think we judge people too quickly by their appearance. It’s like when the mayor came to shake my hand. Would he have done that if I’d been wearing a tracksuit and sneakers? Or did he do it precisely because I was well dressed and holding a big camera?
That’s a very interesting question! It’s true that many people think that because I’m Asian, I must be Buddhist. Just like everyone from North Africa must be muslim. When you grow up in surroundings that are even slightly religious, then you must knee deep in it. I personally moved away from religion as I got older, and that has never been a problem for my family. I think it’s more a problem of conflation: your origins and your religion are two very different things!
This was a French production (Nouvelle Toile). It actually all started when I decided to go out into my neighborhood “armed” with a camera. By a pure chance, I found myself in the middle of the 2005 riots. That was what made me want to continue to regularly monitor my neighborhood’s streets and take pictures when I was back in Chalon. To keep documenting my everday life. When I began choosing the images, I did not think in any particular way about this “French” aspect. The same goes for when I tackled political, social and religious issues. None of that was planned. In fact, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I had this growing desire to test and experiment!