July 5, 2020

The filmmakers of the future study at the ‘banlieue’ | Culture

It is not a master class on the history of the seventh art, but rather a game of pimpon between cinephiles. In this desolate corner of the Parisian periphery, an energetic professor throws questions to the flight to 15 students from different horizons, but with the same ambition: to become the relief of French cinema. They are called Adil, Assia, Maurad, Ludovic, Mbathio, Hajar or Nasser. There are no yawns or furtive glances at the mobile. They know that it has not been easy to sit in this classroom. All of them have been chosen from more than 1,500 applicants to train at the new filmmaker's school Ladj Ly, next French representative at the Oscars with The Miserables, which arrives in Spanish cinemas next Friday.

‘Los miserables’, jury prize in Cannes, opens on Friday

The center is called Kourtrajmé – "short film" in verlan, slang emerged in the suburbs of Paris that reverses the syllables of words—, just like the collective founded by the ninety directors such as Romain Gavras or Kim Chapiron, interested in what happened on the other side of the ring road. Ly joined the group when he was just a teenager filming street scenes in Clichy-Montfermeil, one of the hottest spots in the banlieue Parisian, where her parents, Malian immigrants, arrived in the sixties.

In that suburb, epicenter of the protests that set fire to the French peripheries in 2005, Ly has shot his new film, an electrifying chronicle of the tension between the police and the youth of the neighborhood, and founded this school, which offers free courses for young people without Studies and with few resources. “I was tired of others telling our stories. It is about giving an opportunity to those who have not had any, ”says Ly, critical of the inaction of governments that invested in urban renewal, but not in the breeding ground that explains social exclusion. "In the banlieue, Schools are manpower factories and access to culture is non-existent. We have created this school to change that situation. If I got ahead, it was thanks to the culture, ”says Ly.

Ladj Ly, in the background behind the camera at the Kourtrajmé school.

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Ladj Ly, in the background behind the camera at the Kourtrajmé school.

The Miserables predicts the barbarism that could happen if the authorities still do nothing. “When you are a victim of injustice you are always tempted by violence. I never threw stones or burned cars. I just filmed everything, that was my weapon, ”says Ly. One of his recordings, which reflected a police aggression in 2008, caused the dismissal of two agents. The story would inspire The Miserables, where a child, played by his son Al-Hassan, films a similar attack with a drone. The title makes a nod to the work of Victor Hugo, who set one of his chapters in Montfermeil. “I also speak, like him, about the state of France,” says Ly. Only here Gavroche is called Issa and Inspector Javert is a racist policeman.

To avoid this possibility, Ly has founded the center, where each student develops a script project. The top three will become short films produced by the school in 2020. Alexia, 26, discovered The Miserables in Cannes, where he received the jury prize. “It was as if they slapped me. I signed up to make movies like that, ”he confesses.

“I was tired of
others tell our stories, ”explains the filmmaker

Laïlani, 28, left her job as head of marketing in a multinational to work on his script about a young Muslim who is thrown out of his house because of his sexual orientation. "We never talk about homosexuality in our religion and it is about time," he explains.

Yacim, a 29-year-old physicist, prepares a script about a camel with a baritone voice who is hired by a director who comes to the banlieue Looking for drugs “We have to appropriate the stories that take place in our territory. When others do, they are false, ”he subscribes. Moussa, 35, lives 100 meters from the center. “Every day I pinch on arrival. There is a film school where there was nothing before, ”he says about the place where he grew up.

Some know what school failure is. "Many of them have traumatic memories of their schooling," says the center's pedagogical leader, Thomas Gayrard, a supporter of a horizontal dialogue. “Here they have to open up and face very intimate fears, so the human dimension is important. Our mission is to alter the story by changing the narrator, following the example of Ladj. ” The school pays for expenses with grants from public entities, such as the Ministry of Culture, the National Film Center or French television. And he has already managed to make directors like Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) or Olivier Nakache (Untouchable), in addition to stars like Vincent Cassel, approach this town of 5,000 inhabitants and 40% unemployment.

Ladj Ly (second from right), next to school students.

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Ladj Ly (second from right), next to school students.

Kourtrajmé has great plans for the future. Photographer JR, who has been collaborating with Ly since 2003, will teach a free photography course for 12 students starting in January. And he has already announced the visit of Naomi Campbell as an exception model for his future students. The director also aspires to create a journalism school in the banlieue to make media sensationalism disappear. But its biggest project will be the opening of branches in five African countries starting in 2020. “France did so much damage in its colonies that now it doesn't want to talk about that past. When you harm someone you have to ask for forgiveness and pay a price. France has not only not paid, but continues to mistreat us. Since power does nothing to remedy it, we are going to do it ourselves, ”explains Ly.

This depressed periphery, where the cheap workforce that helped rebuild the country during the postwar period was housed, is one of the most uncomfortable traces of that past. "In the banlieue There is a great hope for the future. You just have to help her to flourish, ”concludes the director, who invited Emmanuel Macron to screen the film on the Elysium. Still waiting for an answer.

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