Entretien – I Like Politics Too

Interview with Marie Voignier

Na China (2020) followed African women entrepreneurs in Guangzhou as they grappled with China’s globalised economy. I Like Politics Too takes place in the Roya-Bévéra valley, a refugee crossing between Italy and France. How did it come about?

Some residents of the Roya Valley who have been actively involved in welcoming and showing solidarity with people in exile asked me to make a film. A film that could tackle the vast issue of hospitality, which could translate what they had experienced and one that could express something of the human experience that they had made in this region, without making a film about them. This encounter was made possible thanks to a rather extraordinary initiative called “The New Patrons” (Les Nouveaux Commanditaires). It connects a group of people facing social obstacles with an artist to produce a work that addresses their problems. This connection is made according to a highly sophisticated protocol that it would take too long to detail here and, as a necessary prerequisite for me, which grants complete freedom to the artist. This set-up is designed explicitly to raise the question of the social and political function of art, of what art can do and, above all, for whom.

How did you meet them and choose to work with the two Sudanese refugees, as well as the French and Italian volunteers?

Some of the main characters in the film, including Soar Gueron who is a political militant from Sudan, are part of the group who asked me to make the film. I met the others on my visits to the valley.

There are numerous recurrent shots of the Roya- Bévéra. Was filming the geography of the region an integral part of the project?

The geography of a border is very important in order to imagine, if you have not done so yourself, what it means to cross a border illegally. Whether by train, car or on foot (and often it is on foot), it is the terrain that your body will endure. This is also why this territory is always filmed in connection with a journey, from a train, a car or the road, it is put to the test by means of the transport and the way we look at the landscape is constructed according to this.

Where do the records of police violence come from and why this staging in the car?

These reports were collected and published by a group known as Kesha Niya, which acts in solidarity with migrants at the Franco-Italian border. The group is made up of volunteers from several countries who organise daily meals for hundreds of people, patrols in Ventimiglia and a reception for people who have been turned back by border police. The reading was done in a car crossing the border, through the valley, I tried to film on the move as much as possible.

The film alternates between the refugees’ discussions and the volunteers’ accounts. How was it structured and expanded from these interviews?

Hospitality is a relationship that engages two people or two groups of people in an asymmetrical yet reciprocal way. I didn’t want to film hospitality “in action”, i.e., the volunteers in the act of welcoming people, when these people would be present and would speak up to share their experiences. This directorial approach doesn’t seem to me to be able to create a genuine dialogue between the welcoming host and the guest. The camera would work, in spite of itself, to widen the distance between them and underline the structural inequality of the terms of their relationship. It is a time of extreme uncertainty when people are physically and psychologically weakened by all that has gone before, when they find themselves indebted to their hosts, even dependent on their hospitality. This inequality is coupled with a political asymmetry: a Western individual, usually white, chooses to host a non-Western individual, economically disadvantaged by migration. We must think about this situation and the question of power and how cinema might reinforce or displace it, and for whose benefit. So, I chose to address the refugees in this film after they had crossed the border and after this phase of vulnerability and immense fatigue had passed, except for the first two shots of the film, which focus precisely on this exhaustion. I filmed the places where they are welcomed, the bedrooms and kitchens, after they had crossed the border. The same goes for the comments of the local volunteers. These choices then determined the structure of the film, when they are talking to each other, but also when they converge. For we must not forget that the refugees themselves are the primary volunteers and activists of the welcome. Soar Gueron and Magdi Masaraa left Sudan and travelled through the valley, and they quickly became actively involved in supporting other refugees.

The film is shot in 4/3 and the main characters are in close-up most of the time. Why did you choose to present the image in this way?

The 4/3 is a directorial choice, a spatial decision: shooting some group sequences between two lock-downs meant I had to take precautions in terms of physical distancing, and the activists found themselves talking on their own in their 16:9 frame, which isolated them from the others and went against their usual way of working: united, in close contact. I decided to “remove the void” that this imposed physical distancing created in the frame, between the bodies and the faces in order to bring them closer together through the editing.

Interviewed by Olivier Pierre