Alice Diop, filmmaker of ‘missing stories’ in full light

She likes static shots, silences, little explored areas and finds herself in full light: the documentary filmmaker Alice Diop sees herself propelled into a symbol of a revival of French cinema with “Saint-Omer”, preceded by an important cinephile buzz .

Consecration for the 43-year-old filmmaker, who grew up in a city of Seine-Saint-Denis: it is on her demanding cinema that the 7th tricolor art bet this year to try to win the Oscar for best foreign film, in March 2023. The recognition of a work “emblematic of the renewal of French cinema” for the boss of the CNC, Dominique Boutonnat, a transparent reference to the recent successes of Julia Ducournau (Palme d’Or 2021 with “Titane”) and Audrey Diwan (Lion d’Or the same year with “L’Evènement”). Praised by critics, does the cerebral Alice Diop take the same path? “When I hear ‘Alice Diop, a black French woman, represents France at the Oscars with a film embodied by two black French actresses’, this sentence sets out a twenty-year-old political program, which made me want to to make cinema”, explains the director to AFP. “There is an invisibilization of black academic, intellectual, complex, ambiguous, neurotic women – as I am undoubtedly a little! We are entitled to our neurosis, to our gray areas” little shown on the screen, notes she.

Coming from a modest background, Alice Diop came to cinema through La Femis, after studying history and sociology. She has retained a sharp look at the world and its inequalities, as well as a literate expression, both in interviews and behind the camera. “The reasons why I want to make films are nourished both by my intimate life, my way of being in the world, what I say, what I feel as a black woman from France in the 21st century. “, but also “what I studied, what hurt me and what was not said”, she summarizes. Her actresses describe an intellectual all in “rigor”, tormented by “the search for reality” (dixit Kayijé Kagame), not necessarily in “help and advice” but who refuses any “manipulation of feelings”. “Her films are very well thought out, she knows exactly what interests her,” adds her editor, Amrita David.

“Renewing imaginations”

For twenty years, she has been filming, sometimes bordering on autobiography, the suburbs, immigration, diversity. Starting with her family portrayed in “Les Sénégalaises et la Sénégauloise” (2017), where she wonders about exile, and the life she could have led if she had grown up on the other side of the Mediterranean. Will follow portraits of immigrant families in the city of 3,000 in Aulnay-sous-Bois where she grew up (“La Tour du Monde”), of a young black suburbanite who dreams of doing theater (“La Mort de Danton”) ; the chronicle of a care center for migrants (“La permanence”), or a trip through the suburbs (“Us”). Marginal filmmaker? “On the margins of a central power, of visibility, of people who are considered legitimate to seize the story? Certainly!”, She decides. To complete: “on the social margins, people politically, artistically invisible, + silenced +, it’s in the name of that that I make cinema, to authorize myself the right of the story, to complete and renew the imaginations, to offer missing stories “.

If she had already won a César for best short film (“Vers la tendresse”), “Saint-Omer” radically changed her category, with a shower of prizes, starting with a double at the Venice Film Festival (Grand Prix of the Jury and prize for the first film, “Saint Omer” being his first fiction). Under the spotlights of the Prado, the one who worked with the director of photography of “Portrait of the young girl on fire”, Claire Mathon, and with the novelist Marie Ndiaye, Goncourt Prize 2009, quoted the black American feminist Audre Lorde, promising like her to break the “silence” and not to be “silent” anymore. It’s done. (Belga / Belgium)

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Alice Diop, filmmaker of ‘missing stories’ in full light