Mahamat-Saleh Haroun: Cannes Juror, Exceptional Filmmaker

Tue Mar 11,2014

By E. Nina Rothe

In the last few days, cinematic circles have been all abuzz at the news that the Cannes 2014 Cinéfondation and Short Films Jury will be headed by Abbas Kiarostami. Yet as much as I adore the Iranian filmmaker and count some of his titles among my top ten favorite films of all times, a name jumped at me from the list of his co-jurors: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

Haroun's latest film Grigris has a groundbreaking, pioneering aspect to it that cannot be overlooked. The first official entry from Chad to the Academy Awards Foreign Language Oscar race, it is simply a moot point that the film did not make the shortlist. It had already premiered in Cannes, where the film's director of photography Antoine Heberlé won the Vulcan Award, screened at festivals around the world, and is getting ready for a theatrical release in the U.S. soon, through prestigious world cinema distributors Film Movement.

Grigris is a human story. A story about someone who doesn't let disabilities he's born with, both physical and geographical, stop him from dreaming. It's a story of Africa, and of "the Other," that stranger who easily turns into the face in the mirror, depending on where we find ourselves in the world.

At this year's Dubai International Film Festival, I had the privilege of sitting with Mahamat-Saleh Haroun for a talk. His charm is palpable, just as his intelligence and insight are undeniable. But perhaps the most wonderful quality Haroun offers, with each word, each glance, each movement, is his wonderful humility, despite his enormous talent. Cannes promises to be magical this year.

You deal with somebody who is really "the Other" because of his disability, and yet is able to overcome it and be a completely positive character. How do you deal with the idea of "the Other" in your films?

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun: It's a great question, you know, it's just like "the Other" is this experience, the intimate experience of being African in this world. I'm not saying about being black. There is a big difference, being African... I travel a lot, I used to travel a lot, my parents were diplomats, and so you feel always, you are "the other of the others." Every time. And the question of being legitimate in a place is always there, this question. I am like the other one, I mean in the world. So this intimate experience helps me to reflect about this kind of person Grigris, [actor] Souleymane Démé and I think that when you are considered as the other, the different one, the only thing that you have to bring and to break down the differences is just your human part of being.


Full Interview here

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