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BERLINALE 2023 Panorama

Apolline Traoré • Director of Sira

“I wanted to enable the audience to feel what the community in that area is feeling right now”


- BERLINALE 2023: We met up with the Burkinabé director, who presents a thriller about terrorism in which a woman finds superhuman strength to fight for the future

Apolline Traoré • Director of Sira

The new feature by Apolline Traoré, Sira [+see also:
film review
interview: Apolline Traoré
film profile
, had its world premiere in the Panorama section of this year's Berlinale. The co-production between Burkina Faso and France is a deeply touching drama with an inspiring female protagonist. We talked to the director about the real-life political background for her film, her work with the main actress and the important message she wants to convey.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose to tell this story in the style of an action film?
Apolline Traoré:
It's not an action film; it’s more of a thriller. I chose to do it this way because that's kind of my background. I studied film in the USA, and I am a dramatic filmmaker. I have always said that I can't make people laugh, but I can make people cry. I really wanted to make the audience very uncomfortable from the beginning and keep people in their seats, so they can feel what the community in that area is feeling right now.

Was it a challenge to shoot the big action scene at the end?
It wasn't that much of a challenge. I actually think that that last scene was the easiest one. We shot it in two days, and the actress was completely ready to shoot it. It was only in the editing room when I realised how powerful the scene really was. The challenges were more the other scenes, since we had many problems on set because of the weather conditions. Before going to the set, my actress and I spent more than one month together, in order to rehearse. We knew exactly what we wanted for the entire film before we started shooting.

Can you tell us more about the actress and about the preparations you did with her?
I did a casting with more than 1,000 girls in order to find her. I searched for someone with specific looks: she had to be Fulani and have dark skin. Finding a dark-skinned Fulani person is not easy, as most Fulani you see in public and who have experience have lighter skin. So finding my protagonist was extremely difficult. This girl came to the casting, and I saw the rage that she would need for the role. She had never performed before, but you could see in her eyes that she wanted it very much. The biggest challenge for her was that she couldn't control her emotions: when she started crying, she wouldn't stop for the rest of the day.

Was it difficult for her to play in the many violent scenes?
As an actor, you are either willing or less willing to do certain things. She wanted that role so much; she understood that it was important. But there is something important that you also have to understand: living in our countries right now, we see and hear that every day. That feeling of desperation is in our hearts right now. Everything that is happening in that film is fresh. I think that also helped her to give the best of herself. She was a representative of her community and of her country.

Still, you decided to give the film a happy ending. Is it saying that unconditional love is possible anyway?
Of course. It's not only about unconditional love, but also about not giving up. If she had given up, she wouldn't have been in that situation. This film is about resilience. Right now, in the West African countries, [...] we are prepared to fight, and we will not give up. Our social bond is very important at the moment. This is what is avoiding a civil war. It's not only about unconditional love between a man and a woman; it's love between members of a community. That’s what is going to help us solve this problem.

Where did you shoot? And did you involve any people from the region as actors?
In the beginning, we were supposed to shoot in Burkina Faso. But because of the situation there, the government didn't allow it because it was too dangerous. We had to relocate to Mauritania, and there, we hired some locals to play many of the extras. It was incredible for them to be part of this project, knowing that Mauritania went through that situation around ten years ago, for a very long time as well. Now, they have been able to overcome it, fortunately. But that means they understood where we were coming from.

What do you want the audience to take away from the film?
I want to say to my people that there is hope. And for the international audience, I want to share what the situation is like, to tell them about this war. It's my responsibility to narrate what is going on.

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