Samir • Director & producer
by Françoise Deriaz
22/02/2006 - Of Iraqi origin, Samir is clearly a child of the Arabian Nights such is his power to surprise us with his rich imagination. Inspired this time by the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White biting into the poisoned apple, he explores the depths of artificial paradise. He explained to Cineuropa his original approach, which allows superficiality, fable and saccharine morality to overlap.
Cineuropa : Is Snow White [trailer, film focus] a tribute to the era of sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and politics?
Samir : Yes, that’s true. All of the above have my fingerprints all over them... I have always been curious to give society a shake, and I still cherish the dream that one day it will change for the better !
In hindsight, are you surprised to observe that young people always turn to drugs?
Of course, I’m concerned ! And it’s precisely that astonishment in watching those three constituent parts that make up rebellion - youth, drugs and music - falling into total decline which encouraged me to make this film. As an old lefty, my view of youth is neither negative nor moralistic, but certainly moral. I think it’s important today to take a stance.
How did you come up with the character of Nico, a poor little rich girl who allows herself to get sucked into that spiral of drugs and prostitution?
She’s based on my old girlfriends !... (laughs). All joking apart, I do know girls like her. It would be crazy to think that we aren’t all attracted to a superficial way of life, the opulent and beautiful universe through which Nico moves. We are all poor biological creatures fascinated by shiny objects! How can we hope to change the world if we don’t understand and reflect upon what seduces us? It makes me think of Oscar Wilde’s wisecrack, when he was asked how he could be both rich and socialist : "Because I want everyone to be rich like me !" he replied. I think the riches of our society should come to all of us and not only to the rich !
The screenplay for Snow White seems to be tailor-made for Carlos Leal, lead singer with the famous, now-defunct band "Sens Unik". Was it ?
His hunger to become an actor and our friendship inspired me ! As soon as the first outline for Snow White was finished, I had it translated into French immediately so that he could read it. And I think Carlos is truly a fine actor since it is very difficult to play a part that is close to your own character. But though his hip-hop career figures in the film, I have to make it clear that he is very different to this character in real life: he’s serious, but not rigid !
Though the young audiences identified with the film, the welcome from the profession was cool at the Locarno Festival: it seems they expect you, Samir, as a Swiss filmmaker of Iraqi origin, to make films that do not deviate from your political road and prefer your films to remain within the documentary sphere, such as Forget Baghdad. What do you think of these expectations, these criticisms ?
There are two types of criticisms. The first concerns the film’s simplicity and its fundamental message. In this case, for me there is a clear problem : they deduce that because a film is dealing with an apparently superficial subject matter that the film itself is superficial. The other reproach comes from the supporters of "positive segregation", who consider that as the son of an Iraqi immigrant, I am duty bound to dedicate myself to my people. It’s a bit like denying me the right to trample other flower beds. Of course, I know the immigrant life and the Middle East, but I grew up in Switzerland!
Does the situation in your native country Iraq influence your projects ?
With an Iraqi writer, I am working on a fiction project which takes place in the 50s, with Shiites, Jews, former communists, English expats and American agents. The story is set in the south of Iraq and I am hoping to be able to shoot there if the situation improves over the next couple of years. If not, I will try to make do with the Egyptian palm groves instead. In parallel, I am developing a political thriller set in Geneva, and the hero is a Muslim fundamentalist on the run, who looks for help from an old journalist working for a respectable daily paper...
You also produced Snow White. Can you tell us more about your production company, Dschoint Ventschr, (phonetic Alemanic for “Joint Venture”)?
After 10 years, 15 documentary features and 13 feature films for cinema and television, Dschoint Ventschr is concentrating on films that are likely to be distributed in Europe. Snow White, which is bilingual (French and German), fits perfectly this strategy of openness. Two other films we produced, Nachbeben (Going Private) by Stina Werenfels and Ricordare Anna by Walo Deuber, also mix languages and origins. In Europe, we tend to think that the language question is an insurmountable handicap, but in Switzerland, which has four, we deal with this problem naturally, on a daily basis.
Snow White has come out in Switzerland. Will it be distributed in other countries?
The film will come out in Germany in the spring, then in Austria in the summer, and then, if we come to an agreement in the current negotiations, in France in the autumn. We are also in discussions for Belgium and Canada.