Damien Hauser • Director of After the Long Rains
“My movies are better when I don’t have a lot of control”
by Marta Bałaga
- The Swiss-Kenyan director unpicks his third feature, in which the characters have to be practical about their dreams
Aisha wants to become an actress. In Watamu, Kenya, her dream seems absolutely insane – to everyone but the girl, that is. She is so determined that she asks a local fisherman to teach her how to sail so that one day, she will be ready to set off on her adventure. We talked to Swiss-Kenyan director Damien Hauser about his IFFR Harbour entry After the Long Rains [+see also:
interview: Damien Hauser
Cineuropa: After the Long Rains is a combination of something more arthouse-like and children’s cinema. Why did you want to do this?
Damien Hauser: I remember being so inspired by Ghibli films. They work for children and they work for adults: that’s what I was trying to do. The feedback I initially got was that this story can’t decide who it is for, but all these arthouse elements just come from me, I guess. I was trying to make a film for kids, but one that I would also enjoy. I didn’t want to simplify things too much, either. Kids are clever.
So is Aisha – she is narrating her own tale.
This voice-over was already present in the very first version I wrote. Maybe that’s where some kids get lost because I don’t show everything, but adults understand this part perfectly.
When you have younger protagonists, it’s hard not to make things too cutesy. Still, you think about sadder issues as well. Aisha wonders why nobody says, “I love you” in her family. After all, they do in the movies!
That line was copy-pasted from my own life. I was always saying it to my father, and he was saying it back, but with my mother, it was different. I love her just as much, but the first time I said it, she just looked at me and asked: “What do you want?” [laughs]
She grew up in Kenya; she was born in the 1970s, and parenting was just different back then. Kids were supposed to learn how to survive, and quickly. Nobody said, “I love you” all the time, and that’s what she has come to know. In the end, I felt her affection anyway. We don’t have to talk about it, but we still communicate it somehow.
Another thing that makes this feel a bit more grown up is the music. It almost makes you think of melodramas.
That’s just my style. This is what I listen to. I didn’t have a budget for it, but then my composer, Simon Joss, found more than 50 people willing to participate. That was crazy! I got so emotional when I saw that. It’s such a small movie: we shot in Watamu with our neighbours. At first, I went there and didn’t know anybody apart from my aunt. I feel that my movies are much better when I don’t have a lot of control. I grew up in Switzerland, and if I had come to Kenya with a specific vision, I wouldn’t have discovered anything new. I listened, I talked to people. This way, the film ended up being much more authentic. In the script, this girl was so loud and childish. Then I met Electricer Kache Hamisi, and it changed completely. Once again, it served me well not to have preconceived ideas.
Is it useful for you to have these two perspectives? Switzerland is so often viewed as a land of privilege.
When I grew up in Switzerland, I saw many sides to it. I have seen wealth but also the struggle. When I went to Kenya in 2020 and lived there for half a year, the struggle was just different. It makes children grow up a bit faster. This girl goes to school, she comes home, cooks and does her laundry, and she is not complaining about it. It’s not a choice; it’s a part of life. I have seen it up close, and I have so much respect for it.
She wants to become an actress, to the dismay of her mother. Were your parents also trying to dissuade you from becoming a director?
I have always been a director: there was no question about it [laughs]. When I was a kid, I would make films with my neighbours as well – just like this time – and somehow, it was a very similar style. There was so much improvisation. Later, in film school, I started to work in a normal, more “professional” way, only to realise I didn’t really like it. I prefer to work with a smaller group of people. When you have a massive set, it’s not so personal any more.
Now, when I work with kids, I try to make sure they are having a good time. It’s crucial because if they are not enjoying themselves, it will show. Also, there are conflicts, but this family still has so much respect for each other. Aisha’s mother is stubborn, but she loves them, and there is something very real about their relationship. You can understand another person, but it doesn’t mean you have to always share their opinions.
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