Interview - A Mile in my shoes director Saïd Khallaf As my first long feature, I didn't expect a lot. The reaction has been overwhelming
The director of "A mile in my shoes" won the Paulin Vieyra African film critics Award at the last Fespaco. The feature is also the winner of Bronze Stallion (Etalon de Bronze de Yennenga) at the same festival. The Moroccan filmmaker speaks about his first feature which already has 21 awards in 28 official selections. A never seen before winning challenge in Morocco, according to him.
What inspired you the theme of this film?
During my first visit to my hometown Casablanca- Morocco after my immigration to Canada. On May 16th, 2003 to be exact. I was walking in a public park and I noticed a group of homeless kids that were hanging around smoking pots and drinking alcohol. One of them stopped me to ask for money, he was around 14 years old, he was very tall and barely able to talk. He was in a state that he could do anything without being aware of his act. I gave him some money and walked away. His image is still engraved on my mind.
On that very day at night, 4 terrorists attacks struck Casablanca, a lot of innocent souls were wasted. 4 suicide bombers conducted the attacks their ages were between 18 and 24 year old. I couldn't sleep that night I kept thinking about those homeless kids. And I asked myself this question "if the government does NOT take care of homeless kids, what kind of future are we expecting for them?".
Why the title "A Mile in my Shoes", with regard to the issues raised by the film?
My very first title I had for this film while I was writing was "Made in Casablanca". After, I changed to what is now, for one reason. I didn't want to relate the city of Casablanca to the street kids phenomenal, as this problem is universal. My main message in the film is that "do NOT judge people until you know very well all the circumstances they are going through", from an English proverb that says "you do not know me till you walk a mile in my shoes". I got inspired by the title.
The theme of child abuse is quite recurrent in cinematography in the Maghreb; is it a real social problem today?
As far as I know this theme has been a social problem all over the world, the audacity of filmmakers to talk about it that made the theme of the child abuse look quite recurrent in the Maghreb. I live in Canada, one the quietest countries in the world, come and see the child abuse in here and USA, especially in the first nations communities. And no need to mention Brazil, Mexico and most the Latin Americans countries.
Is the society, the government taking measures to curb this ill?
Yes, I'm talking here about the government of Morocco, there are a lot of changes in the way they are dealing with this problem. I can see now a lot of associations for the purpose of helping street kids in any way they can.
How has "A mile in my Shoes" been doing since its production?
As my first long feature, I didn't expect a lot, but deep inside I was hoping to get my message out to the world. The reaction has been overwhelming, 21 awards in 28 official selections. Never happened in Moroccan cinema history. This success is like a sword with double edge, I feel now responsible toward my 2nd project.
How did you come up with the idea of integrating drama in your scenario?
Well, when I was writing I didn't think about until I got in my hand over 350 pages to be re-written as a script for a film. I trust you remember the scene of the step-father came to ask the mother for marriage then he quickly changed his mind. To write this in "normal structure" it would take several scenes to express the idea. But on theatre stage there is freedom for expression.
What result do you expect with this approach?
I don't expect anything, for me is a form of expression. How the other would see it is not one of worries.
Your film was selected to represent Morocco for the 2017 Oscars competition; how did you welcome this experience?
Woooow, what made it so great is that the film is my first long feature. When I got the news, I couldn't stop my tears from coming out.
You won the Critique Africaine and Etalon de Bronze de Yennenga Prizes at the FESPACO. What does that add to your career?
So proud and also, as I mentioned before, it's a big responsibility.
What do you have to say so far on the development of African cinema criticism?
Honesty, real love for cinema
Your film was also selected as the best last year at the Tanger National Film festival. What a great success for this work...
So proud, I didn't expect it, the competition was very high.
Morocco is one of the African countries where the government supports film production. Does it mean it is easy to produce in Morocco?
It's NOT easy at all, there are thousands of filmmakers waiting to get funded to produce their work.
If not, what are the challenges to producing a film in Morocco today?
The fund from the government is NOT enough to produce big productions, we're still limited to small projects.
How many films have you directed so far?
Four short films and this long feature.
What you have to say about the organization of the FESPACO this year? The official selection, the public, the different prizes, programming...
Let's be honest here with the hope to make things better. The Organization and the programming need to be looked at. I loved the public… FESPACO is one the biggest African film festivals… It has to be one of the best.