Tea time with Je serai parmi les amandiers [Among the Almond Trees]
Where did you get the idea for this story? Had you met Syrians in the same situation?
The question of exile in the family is something that resounds strongly with me, and that I had explored in a previous short film. I can’t really explain why, but it is something that continues to come up. For this project, it started with the desire to film a place. After school, I wanted to reconnect with my origins, and that’s how I ended up at the port of Keroman, in Lorient. It is a place that, in addition to being very cinematographic, tells a lot about the society in which we live. During the same year, I did several small food service jobs, including one in a CADA (Reception Center for Asylum Seekers) in Marseille. Of course it was no accident that I ended up there, it made sense in terms of my preoccupations. I met a Syrian woman who wanted to separate from her husband, but was advised to wait for refugee status as a family before starting the divorce process. Her story was very different from that of Maysan in the film, but that ambivalence between waiting for an administrative response and dismantling a family was something that left a profound impression on me. After the emergency subsides, the “ordinary” reasserts itself, and it is this “after” that interested me. In the story of the three characters, it is through the culmination of an exile that they are bound by a common destiny which reveals itself to be the break-up of the family unit. It also made sense because we were in a context where the global situation of migrants, whether in a negative context or, on the contrary, one of compassion, was very present. It was as if we were not talking about ourselves, but about “other” people, a separate and distinct group. And so, through the story of this woman, two questions that I wanted to defend came together in an obvious way. What holds us together in this society where the permanence of relationships seems increasingly fragile? And how can we, through individual, family and intimate stories, break this perception of difference? Characters came to life, and their story took root in the port of Keroman, which embodied many things related to the story that the film tells.
What research have you done?
I think it was all my previous research that led to the conception of this story. I worked for two months in a fish processing factory, like Maysan in the movie, and a lot of the narrative came from there. There had already been significant meetings, whether with families, Syrian or not, and obviously the encounter with this woman. And then all this encountered life, and that which sometimes twists our stomachs in knots in spite of us, that which dwells in us. It is with all this that the story took root, not before. Then, during the writing, I continued of course to make encounters, and I mainly did research at the administrative level on the role of the social worker in obtaining legal status and on the consequences, in certain cases, of a divorce during this process. Then there were the castings, which taught me a lot, and the discussions with Masa Zaher and Jalal Altawil, who played the characters.
How did the casting go?
At the very beginning, I didn’t expect to work with actors. When writing, I was already thinking of my former colleagues at the fish factory, and they turned out to be perfect. For the family, it was more complicated at the very beginning: I did a non-professional casting where I met many people, but I couldn’t find who I was looking for. And then one day, I was sent a list with several contacts of Syrian actors who had fled the Assad regime, including Masa Zaher and Jalal Altawil. It was a decisive meeting. Not only did they have a power of expression within them that I found very beautiful, but their personal journeys echoed the story. They have contributed enormously to the film.
This short film lends itself to a sequel! Do you have a feature-length project in mind?
There is indeed a feature-length project that has something to do with this short film, but it is still in its infancy.
What are your future film projects?
So there is the writing of a feature-length film, which is really in its infancy, and I have in mind two documentaries that I would like to be able to make. I feel that the documentary process can contribute enormously to the film process, and I would like to explore it more significantly.
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
I believe that the short film is a wonderful opportunity to find your path with more freedom, to gradually feel your way, to learn, to have the right to make mistakes, and to experience things. It’s a very powerful format, where we have to figure out how one fragment can echo the rest. After that, I still hope that freedom is not completely linked to format or duration, but also to our perseverance, our choices, and to the support of sensitive and invested producers and an entire team. Of course, there are always constraints to be considered, and they are certainly even greater with a feature-length film, but I believe that whatever the format, there is always a way to make it a force.