Paris Stalingrad is your first theatrical release. What is your background ?
Hind Meddeb: I was a journalist for ten years (France 24, France Info, Arte, France televisions, Paris Première, Radio Nova). I made my first documentary when I was still a student at Sciences Po, a film that traces the journey of young radicalized Moroccans who carried out the first terrorist attacks in Morocco in May 2003 (De Casa au Paradis, 2007). Between 2011 and 2013, at the time of the Arab Spring, I shot Tunisia Clash and Electro Chaabi two feature documentaries on musical creation as a revolutionary act. As I grew up in a family with multiple origins, my father is Tunisian and my mother Moroccan-Algerian, I speak Arabic and I have spent long stays in Africa and the Middle East. In my films, I am interested in forms of resistance to the established order by filming on the side of those who revolt. I gradually moved away from journalism to move towards the freer form of film documentary.
How many months have you spent with the migrants? How many rushes did you have before editing?
With Thim Naccache, we shot between 2016 and 2018. We had around 100 hours of rushes. The assembly was done in stages. The long-term filming allowed us to reconstruct a geography of exile in the streets of the capital and to show the deterioration of the situation over two years.
You take the word of those whom society anonymizes. How did you manage to gain their trust?
We spent a lot of time on site, without a camera, talking to the people there, explaining our approach to them. We did not only shoot a film, friendships were born, we supported people in their administrative procedures and we also created links beyond the shooting. I initiated artistic collaborations between French artists such as the director Benjamin Lazar, Arthur H, Gaël Faye and certain refugee musicians or poets. The Maison de la Poésie, but also the Institut du Monde Arabe on the occasion of the Night of Poetry, opened their doors to us by inviting Souleymane the main character of the film but also the poets Hassan Yassine and Moneim Rahma to come and say their poems on stage.
By taking an interest in the fate of migrants, you are making a film on the state of the world. What is your analysis of the current situation?
The State, the public authorities do not encourage solidarity, I would even say that they do everything to prevent it. Many politicians campaign by stoking hatred of others. It is a lazy and profitable method, what could be easier than to shift the frustrations of the ones onto the backs of the others. This is what we see in the film. Because Paris is not a racist city, it is a cosmopolitan city with a long history of crossbreeding and many foreigners have settled there and have even contributed to its influence. Paris is a city where the FN has its worst score. And we thought we had elected a mayor on the left. And yet the police and the administrations exert daily violence on peaceful and vulnerable people. And people in solidarity are attacked (there have been several lawsuits against Parisians who supported the refugees). Despite everything, I remain optimistic. Because we live in fact, in a mixed world, those who cling to a fixed conception of their identity, are nostalgic for a world that has not existed for a long time. The xenophobic discourses that are present everywhere in the media will end up exhausting themselves because they enter into contradiction with reality. Separation, segregation are unnatural, the walls always end up falling. But we are indeed going through a very dark time and our film documents a sinister episode in the history of Paris.
You film the exhaustion of migrants, who keep on being chased away by states and harassed by the police. You are filming this need for rest and serenity. Is this the fundamental tragedy of migrants?
Halil Altindere, Turkish artist of Kurdish origin answers your question with humor with his installation “Space Refugee”: “What if, tired of wandering on Earth, the refugees set out to conquer new planets to finally find a living space ? ” It is the fiction that the artist explores in his work. It highlights with great irony the absurdity of our policies. For my part, what I observe is the tragedy of Europe known as “human rights” which daily betrays its fundamental values. The Mediterranean is a huge open-air cemetery. It is the European policy of closing borders which is responsible for these deaths. There is today a huge gap between what Europe claims to defend and what is happening on its territory. I would add that the vast majority of refugees in the world do not come knocking on Europe’s door. Driven out by war or climate change, they are mainly in countries bordering theirs, a million Sudanese refugees in Uganda, hundreds of thousands of Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, more than 500,000 Somali refugees in Kenya etc. And what we often forget to remember is that most of the people who come to Europe come from formerly colonized countries whose resources have been exploited and which have greatly contributed to enriching Europe. If Europe has become a promised land, it is also because it has enriched itself by colonizing almost all the continents of the world.
Did you have the Sisyphus myth in mind when you were shooting your film?
The shooting was very hard. And the film falls far short of the violence we have witnessed. There is a degree of violence that we did not manage to reproduce in the film. Every two days, the police came to destroy the camps and throw in the trash the personal belongings of the refugees who were waiting in the street to be able to submit their asylum application. After the departure of the police and cleaners from Paris, people found themselves sleeping on the floor on a piece of cardboard. Some were crying because they had lost all their papers and personal belongings. Every day you had to start from zero. Yes, the almost daily repetition of these dramas is indeed comparable to the myth of Sisyphus. But above all all this violence inflicted by the state on extremely vulnerable people was totally unnecessary and senseless.
What are your projects ?
I am preparing a new film entitled “Sudan, remember the songs which collapse”, alongside a revolutionary youth who overthrew a military and religious dictatorship and who are fighting to bring about the rule of law. Poetry is also at the center of this film. In Sudan, resistance goes through words. “The bullet doesn’t kill. It is the silence that kills ”we hear in the demonstrations against the old regime. This film in Sudan constitutes the “out of scope” of Paris Stalingrad. We will discover that Souleymane comes from a country where millions of people are ready to die to conquer their freedom.
The Paris Stalingrad trailer: