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VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 Competition

Aïcha Macky • Director of Zinder

“I am lucky to have in my possession a powerful tool that could help to make voices heard”


- The second feature-length documentary from the Nigerien filmmaker is set in her hometown Zinder

Aïcha Macky • Director of Zinder

In her documentary Zinder [+see also:
film review
interview: Aïcha Macky
film profile
, which premiered at this year's Visions du Réel Film Festival in the Competition section, Aïcha Macky follows three main protagonists living in Kara-Kara, a neighbourhood of the Nigerien town of Zinder, where lepers traditionally used to live. We talked to the filmmaker about her approach to this largely male environment and the impact the film had on her.

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Cineuropa: Why is it important for you to focus in your films on topics related to your origins?
Aïcha Macky:
Why look far when right next to me there are veils that deserve to be lifted, evils that need to be put into words? I am lucky to have in my possession a powerful tool that could help to make voices heard — those that are less heard, or not heard at all. It is this tool that I put in the service of my community. 

How did you find your protagonists?
Eight years ago, at the beginning of my approach, I had access to the "palais" because I was a volunteer for the "Search for Common Ground" project. I was training young people on how to oppose violent extremism. I got to know some of the young people who are in the gangs or even have close ties to them. In particular, I met three of them who have a very particular background and who are also adults. This allowed me to confront them with a certain distance. I couldn't and didn't want to relate to teenagers who were haggard-eyed, drug-fogged and too manipulable. The ones I chose to follow are largely out of their teens, adults like me. They tell me about the daily life of the gang, they who would be able to extract themselves from it.

Wasn't it difficult to convince them to open up to you? 
Naturally, when you have a stranger in front of you, you are immediately suspicious. The question of my status came up a lot at the beginning. Some people wondered if I wasn't a police officer and didn't want to investigate and infiltrate a network of drug dealers. For others, I was a dealer who wanted to approach some young people to integrate them into my network. When they understood that I was from the city and that I had my family there, the locks started to fall.

Apart from the trips with Ramsess, were you able to film openly or did you have to conceal your camera?
We didn't hide the camera. We filmed as discreetly as possible so as not to attract attention. There were a lot of people who wanted me to take an interest in their gang and point my camera at them. Those were people who are used to speaking on behalf of these young people and divert fundings originally destined to them. At one point, it became harassment.

What is the real purpose of Siniya's club "Hitler"?
What was important for me was to show the relationship they have with their body. This desire to build a lot of muscles, to look good, to scare the other side and also to intimidate the other side by the mass of the body. For someone who was born and grew up in this neighborhood, which was historically the neighborhood of lepers, you have to look healthy, to make a place for yourself in this society.

Did you feel the need to tell Siniya who this "Hitler" really was?
There was originally a whole sequence about who Hitler is in the film. Unfortunately, we didn't put it in the final version of the film. For some, Hitler is a South African, a friend of Shaka Zulu. For others, he was a fearsome American who terrorised the world and made a name for himself. They are aware of the terror that Hitler sowed, but they have no knowledge of Nazism, or what the swastika symbolises. Even though many of them have it tattooed on their bodies. 

Bawo talks more or less openly about his criminal actions. How did you react to his confessions about the treatment of women?
I was very shocked, I wanted to strangle him. It was the first time I had ever talked to someone who told me about rape without any distance. I had tears flowing, at one point I was feverish. When he understood this, he said "I couldn't hide my past."

What is the perspective of women in this cosmos?
I would say that women are present in the foreground. Ramsess, for example, is the nourishing sap. It's thanks to her that many young people have a job, even if it is illegal. She is the one who puts her life at risk so that others can survive. There are also other women, who give us access to all kinds of violence: physical violence and verbal violence. Finally, there is also my perspective as a filmmaker.

Did working on the film change your own way of perceiving these characters?
When I started this project, I had many feelings: fear, incomprehension, fascination. And then my own prejudices that I had to fight. The encounters have changed me forever. Sinyia, Bawo, Ramsess, who I got to know, made me enter their world. They want to get out of illegality. They shared with me their daily life and their survival strategies. Contact with them continues to transform me.

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