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Lina Soualem •​​ Director of Their Algeria

"I needed to break that silence"


- Lina Soualem tells us about her first feature film, the documentary Their Algeria, revealed and well received at the Visions du Réel festival

Lina Soualem  •​​ Director of Their Algeria

The daughter of actors Hiam Abbass and Zinedine Soualem, and already herself appreciated for her acting, Lina Soualem has moved behind the camera for her first feature film, Their Algeria [+see also:
film review
interview: Lina Soualem
film profile
, discovered at the 51st Visions du Réel festival. An intimate, delicate and tender documentary about her grand-parents and the identity of Algerians who emigrated to France after World War II.

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Cineuropa: Why did you move to directing for this topic?
Lina Soualem: I’ve always been fascinated by the story of my grandparents because it was ignored, and because they never told us about it. I was wondering what was hiding behind that silence. But there is also a connection to my studies, through which I discovered the history of Algeria, of colonisation, of immigration. I realised that I knew it officially, through history books, but not at all in an intimate, family framework. There was therefore this huge gap between what I was learning, and my own history as well as that of my grandparents. It’s most of all when I travelled to Algeria for the first time that I noticed a personal malaise: I was in my grandparents’ country, I knew more or less which region they were from, but I knew nothing of the way their personal story was rooted in this wider history.

How were you thinking of exploring your grandparents’ past?
It is when they separated that I told myself it was now or never, and that I absolutely had to film them: their separation announced a kind of ending for me and I was afraid that they would disappear without me ever knowing their story. I needed to break that silence and this separation was bringing a lot of questions to the surface: not only did I not understand why they were separating, but I was also realising that I knew nothing of what they had lived together, in an intimate way, and in a more general way in their life of exile. I thought I was mostly going to film my grandmother because I’d always perceived her as a very strong woman, which alleviated all the tragic character of what she’d lived through. But my grandfather was there, in my memories and, most of all, physically, just in front of me. So I filmed him too. It was all a little improvised, without a script written in advance, and the film built itself up little by little.

When did you decide that you would be one of the characters in the film?
I quickly realised that my questions would have to be in the film because my grandparents do not talk easily, they do not necessarily know how to express their emotions: it is in the exchange that things happen. At first, I wanted to focus on them and reduce my own presence in the film, but at the editing stage, while working on the narrative structure, I realised that the film was not only about them, but about us, about me, about my father, about transmission. I constructed the film in that way: my voice is the throughline, while my research and my questions make the film move forward. In the final step of the editing, I inserted dialogues with my father in voice-over, which were not at all planned in the beginning.

What did you know of this generation of Algerian economic migrants in France who then found themselves stuck in that country because of the war in Algeria?
I discovered everything on the way. First through my father, because my grandfather did not want to talk about the war in Algeria. I was not thinking of my father as a character in the film, but he was very important in this question of transmission. It is by filming him with my grandmother and by hearing him talk about the myth of the return that I began to understand the kind of atmosphere he had grown up in. I understood a lot of things by putting together this history with the snatches of answers I was getting.

What will your next film be about?
I am thinking about a project that would touch on the same topic of transmission, but on my mother’s side of the family, in Palestine. The film will heavily rely on archival images because my father filmed a lot of footage when we used to go there.

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(Translated from French)

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