PODCAST — Episode 10, recorded
Moouad el Salem and collaborator Nour Al Amal in conversation with BFMAF Programmer Christina Demetriou about the film ‘This day won’t last’.→
Mouaad el Salem is a director, producer, editor and actor based between Tunisia and Belgium. In 2018, he was recipient of an Artists Grant from Mophradat (Brussels). This day won’t last is his directorial debut.
Originally from the UK, Christina Demetriou relocated to Berlin in 2015 where—with the aim of organising intimate film events dedicated to dialogue—she founded the screening series LUNAR. While taking place predominantly in Berlin, she has also curated LUNAR screenings in Paris’ legendary Beverley cinema and the Arctic Moving-Image & Film Festival in Norway. Christina also works as the Festival Coordinator for the arthouse sales agent Coproduction Office, and has been a participant in the Oberhausen Seminar (2017) and The Film Society of Lincoln Center Industry Academy (2019).
Hello, welcome to Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. My name is Christina and I’m on the programming team for the festival this year. We’re here in conversation with the film director Mouaad el Salem whose film This day won’t last is in the Berwick New Cinema Competition. This is Mouaad’s debut film. He is a filmmaker living and working in Tunisia. And we’re also joined in the conversation by Nour Al Amal, one of Mouaad’s close collaborators.
Mouaad thank you so much for sharing this beautiful and very affecting film with us. And could you start by letting us know a little bit about what inspired or motivated you to create this work?
Well, there is one night before two years, I think. I was with Noor and in this period I was so depressed and I was working too far from my family and where I was born. And in this period, I have a boyfriend in this period, but we broke up. So I was so depressed and I left him and I know no one in the Capital, in this period Nour, she came to my house and he was talking and all I told her, I love cinema and we was talking about homosexuality in Tunisia and all.
When you are a homosexual in an Arab, Muslim country, you are in danger always. Even if you try to be safe, you are always in danger. I tried to show this, but without showing my face, to show a message but with my way and with the eyes of a Tunisian homosexual. So she told me that, “Okay, we can do that.” And this is how it all start because I never studied cinema. It’s very expensive for me, but I always loved cinema and I love taking pictures and all this. So she said, “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s work together and see what you can do.” And it was like this.
And did you say that it was two years ago? Or it’s been a period of time.
I wonder, has it changed at all during that time? Was it always meant to be this kind of film or…
After this film, I felt more good, you see. I felt comfortable, I felt safe. Because my message, I succeed to show the message. I tried to make an impression on the government because even nowadays, that in Tunisia, you can be in the prison for three and five or maybe 15 years just because you are gay or just because you love a man. And this is not only the boys, even for lesbians, you see? Now I have too many friends in the prisons just because they are in love, you see? So I hope someday that we can change all that maybe with this film or maybe with all the persons and all the activists to try to change that. Someday, maybe we can change it.
There’s a really strong sense in the film of activism and I think it’s really beautiful the way that you bring together these poetic details, but also a bigger sense of activism, which goes much beyond maybe one person. How do you see this relationship between image making and activism? Do you see activism as separate to filmmaking or is it a close relationship for you?
There’s always a good relationship, you see. Whatever everyone have his way to show. For example, for me I found that to film can make an impression for other person they think would be dancing or maybe going in the street and just said, “That’s us.” Everyone has his way. So I think that we are so close together and that’s good in Tunisia. For example, when someone was arrested by the police or whatever he do, I’m talking about a homosexual, we all stayed together and tried to help him. So I think the relationship between us is so strong.
I think that really comes across in the film. And it’s, I mean the film is obviously very personal, but you really get a sense of this collective. And I think there’s one sentence in the film that I remember very strongly, it’s something about, “I will continue to record this for my friends, or I’ll continue to share.” Which I thought was very striking because in the credits you are actually credited with everything. Director, editor, sound person, but I imagine that it was not only, or how was it for you? Were you making the film also with other people or with friends?
We were, they were so far from me. They don’t live in Tunisia, but for me, for example, when I feel so bad or depression or whatever, I always try to send some message for my friends and tell them about what I feel. For example now, Christina, I’m talking with you, but I’m in my house and this is not safe for me. I’m glad that they doesn’t understand English. So for example, if the conversation was in Arabic, that will be so, so risky for me because my family are so religious and they don’t accept that you be different. Even now, for example with my dad, when I do whatever he said, “Oh my God, you are not a girl or a boy that is, what’s happening to you? You are between a boy and a girl. We hate that, we don’t respect that.” So you see, for me every moment in my life was so hard.
The film also gives such a sense that you really feel that danger actually all the way through it. But at the same time, it feels also so necessary to make it and to have some kind of visibility. Even if your face is not completely recognisable. I mean, it’s interesting because making a film is so much about visibility, but then you can limit what you show and what…
I never saw my film in big, I only watched my film on my phone. Sometimes it hurts that you can’t watch it in a festival or something like this, but I’m so glad that my friends can see it.
You’re able to share it just by sending the film to people on their phones?
Only for close friends and I always change the password you see? It can be, it’s really dangerous. I don’t want to be in the prison because of that. For example, if you are in the prison, you need a lawyer and I can’t support all this. And more than this they can kill me with the name of their religion, you see? Not my religion, the Arabic religion, Islam. Gay, shot, killed all the gays, they said something is not natural, you see? And here, they don’t have a good education about that. They always talk, “Okay, Tunisia is so good. It’s beautiful country with the sun and the beach to all you see? But the mentality, the way they think is not that good. Not all, but here we’re talking about 80% from the population. There are some gays who talk with the name of the religion. And they said, “No, we are not normal.” So even gays here, for me, I studied too much about this. So I know, maybe this is who help me to accept myself. For example, if I was a normal person who is not good educated, maybe I will think in the same way than the others you see? Because religion makes too much tradition. And the day that I left this religion, I felt so good. There is no more oppression. So yeah.
I’m interested in, or maybe you could talk a little bit about time in the film because in a way it feels like an archive. It has all these fragments in it, and it’s also set very, it feels very set in the present in a way that a diary it’s talking about each day, one at a time, this happened, or this feels like this. But I also get a sense that there’s a lot of reflections on the future or a kind of something looking towards the future.
It’s all about hope. I don’t know if you are talking about the prison, it’s too hard to be free. And I’m not sure that in this, maybe in this 10 years we can be free, but there is always hope. And I know that this day will never stay the same because we will change it someday. And I have good feeling about this. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe in 10, 20, 30 years, I don’t know. Maybe when I die, but I’m sure that always there’s persons who will fight for this.
There’s also very much these, I mean I think dream and nightmare are both really sort of present in the film. So someone’s like quite beautiful dream, the hope, like you said a hopefulness, but there’s also a sense of nightmare, a sense of dread. I’m wondering about how those two parts of the imaginary came together for you?
You saw in my film that there’s always, in the majority of my film, I’m in my room with my cats. So this is my space and in this space, it’s a space for imagination and all. And with my cats, I feel more better. So I don’t know how to explain, but just come like this, you see? When you are alone in your space, you open your mind and you try to fly.
I think that explains it very well. I love the images of the cat. It’s very tender, like this way of witnessing.
So I have 10 cats and they are my life. I give all my energy on my life for my cats. They’re my company, yep.
Yeah. Very beautiful. So I’m wondering about if you intend to keep making films, are you going to keep making films and keep making work?
Yeah, I think yes. I think yes. You know, the picture in the film was with my phone and my phone is too old. You see, my face is not that beautiful in the camera. And I use a camera, a camera..
Yeah. So we had limited technical means, but it was also a decision to go, not to wait for more means just to go, because there was an urgency.
Yeah. I think yes, because I know that with the sample stuff that we have, we can make a beautiful thing, you see? We don’t need too much money or we don’t need the good camera to show all this. So even I believe in this, even for the big feelings and all, we don’t need all this money, you see? With a simple thing, we can make a beautiful thing. For the future? Yes, of course, there will be too much more films.
Too much. Well, I’m looking forward to seeing them. I felt also really struck by how much movement there is in the film. I mean, of course the title, it’s also sort of about movement. It’s about this won’t last, this will change. But also a lot of the images, there’s like the sea, there’s dancing, there’s the breeze and curtains or something like this. And I wonder if, is there a choice to choose these things to film? These moments?
They just became like this, you see? For example, for the way the dancing or you see the part when I’m eating the chewing gum going like this? For the straight homophobic Tunisian, if they saw this, they will feel so nervous and they will feel too much hate. I do it just like this to make them, to show them that we are here, because they hate that. The way of the dancing is just like this, it’s simple, because life is too simple, you see? So just let’s take every moment. Like there is, I don’t know maybe today we are together, tomorrow we are not. We don’t know about the future. Just let’s feel like this example, you see?
Is there anything else you would like to share with people about the film?
Just try to love yourselves, to be you. Just accept yourself, like the way you are, whatever you are, homosexual, straight, your colour, your life, your religion, whatever, just accept yourself, just be you. Accept yourself and love yourself of course. Love is so important. Don’t hate to people, don’t hate. Hate is not good. Let’s forget the religion, the distance between us, the countries, all this. When you meet someone, just try to support them because you don’t know what’s happening in his life, what he feels. If he’s that strong or not, just try to smile. Just something, you see?
Well, thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful conversation about the film.
Thank you for video too. I’m so glad and I’m so happy too. And I want to say thank you for Nour, because without Nour the message would never get past my room, you see?
Yeah. I wanted to say that it really was a collaboration with many different people and many encouragements from different sites and different countries. And I really want to thank David, who did the sound for the movie, but we call him the sound engineer, but in fact he was the psychologist of the movie. And also Hooda, who made the music. She really conveyed the hope and the struggle and the fighting very well in her music and her rhythms. So yeah, it’s a collaborative work and also the work of all the activists who were before us and were fighting now with us are very important. So thank you for giving us the platform.
Thank you so much to Mouaad and to Nour for joining me in this really generous conversation about the film.