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The Yennenga Gold Stallion, Fespaco’s supreme award, was awarded on Saturday 4 March to young Tunisian director Youssef Chebbi for his film Ashkal. A work appreciated by the jury of the 28th edition of the largest African film festival, as well as by French critics when it was released in theaters at the end of January. Interview.
Awarded with Yennenga’s Gold Stallion at the 28th edition of FespacoYoussef Chebbi signs with Ashkal a mysterious and metaphorical film in Tunisia today. It recounts the investigation carried out by two police officers after the discovery of a charred body in one of the buildings of the Jardins de Carthage, a district of Tunis created by the old regime, but whose construction was brutally stopped at the start of the revolution. . This poetic thriller takes stock of the excesses after the 2011 uprising.
The coronation of Youssef Chebbi in Burkina Faso coincides with the outbreak of violence in Tunisia against sub-Saharan migrants, following President Kaïs Saïed’s speech on February 21 calling for urgent measures against illegal immigration. Stigmatized, hundreds of these nationals have already been repatriated to their countries of origin.
RFI: Were you surprised to receive the Gold Stallion?
Youssef Chebbi: I was a little surprised, but it’s a great joy and a great honor to receive the Gold Stallion. I think it’s a beautiful lesson, a hand reaching out to the other, whoever it is. It is also the expression of an awakening to tolerance and the desire to move towards better horizons. It is necessarily highly symbolic.
Ashkal is a film that “out of the ordinary” specified the jury during the award ceremony on Saturday. What seduced the jury in your film?
I can only tell you what we tried to do with this film. We have of course tried to talk about the things that exist, but above all to treat them in a different way. To go towards fiction, towards the imagination, and to explore what in any case makes us jump on what also exists in reality. I never imagined making a political film, it’s a film that borrows things from Tunisian reality, and tries to look at this reality from another point of view. To embrace the imaginary and the fictional as well, which is somewhat of the order of legend and national narrative in this revolution, and in what it creates as a motif.
For me, the image of the immolation sticks to Tunisian society up to its most recent forms. It is a highly iconic image that permeates Tunisian society, and which tells us a lot about the memory of this society. Until a few years ago, people who set themselves on fire were said to be martyrs. Today, they are considered spoilsports of the famous democratic transition. It shows us oblivion, which is the worst enemy, and then it shows us a sign of obvious security drift.
How do you experience what is happening in Tunisia with regard to immigrants?
I don’t want to make a political speech, because I think we make films to avoid making politics and speeches. But personally, I find it shameful and it hurts my heart. It irritates me and revolts me. I feel rage and anger against this speech. It’s hellish to know that this is happening in Tunisia. I was there two days ago, when people were starting to leave. But there are also many associations, young people, friends who work to support immigrants and make them understand that the discourse of power is not that of all of Tunisian society.
It is important not to beat yourself up and use this problem to allow things to evolve. I think that this discourse against immigrants is only carried by a minority of the public. But at the same time, I also believe that somewhere, this subject is essentially used to divert attention from much more important problems related to the return of security and the arrests of opponents. There are a lot of things that are being put in place around this debate which is, once again, diverted. Tunisia is also a population of young people, and the youth who will not allow themselves to be exploited and will not let themselves be taken in by this roundabout debate.
But how do you explain the sudden increase in racist acts?
I think that the problem of racism in Tunisia existed long before this racist charge from the president. But in my opinion, the very meaning of what happened is not made aware by a good part of the population. What is important is that this situation comes to light, that we become aware of it in order to be able to remedy it.
I also think that these are the consequences of a country that has never really had any kind of political consciousness, or only very recently. We are in a world where populations are on the move; it will continue no matter what. Better to seize the problem than to simply condemn it. But this president has no political project. He has a populist discourse. And this speech also makes it possible to divert attention from this profound incompetence. It’s a bit like the tree that hides the forest. These are the methods used by the extreme right in France, Italy or elsewhere.