First film adaptation of the novel Allah Is Not Obliged in the works
- Zaven Najjar’s animated road movie will teeter between drama and black comedy, telling an epic tale akin to Kirikou and the Sorceress and oozing Persepolis-like satire
One of the beneficiaries of the Film Fund Luxembourg’s latest round of funding (during which €13 million were split among 29 projects) is the first film adaptation of the Ivorian novel Allah Is Not Obliged. Revolving around a child soldier in Liberia in the 1990s, this critically acclaimed story by Ahmadou Kourouma won the Renaudot Award and the Goncourt High-school Student Award when it was published in 2000. The feature-length animated project, which was presented in 2018 at Cartoon Movie in Bordeaux, at CEE Animation in Trebon and at the MIA 2019 in Rome, today boasts a budget of €4.7 million, financed by three countries: France (41%, Special Touch Studios), Luxembourg (35%, Paul Thiltges Distributions) and Belgium (23%, Lunanime and Need Production).
France’s Sébastien Onomo first approached Luxembourg’s Adrien Chef and Paul Thiltges with the idea while they were already working together on Denis Do’s Funan [+see also:
interview: Denis Do
film profile], a drama about the totalitarian regime of the Khmer Rouge. With this new venture, the producers are revisiting the themes of war and civil violence, but this time, they will be applied to a completely different territory and several countries: Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.
Birahima, a ten-year-old Guinean orphan, falls under the influence of Yacouba, a boy who is fascinated by the world of the child soldiers of the NPFL (National Patriotic Front of Liberia), linked to rebel Charles Taylor, a hero of the civil war that the region will be engrossed in for eight long years. Under the auspices of Colonel Papa Le Bon, the preteen will learn all about this life of garrisons, propaganda, religious ceremonies, drugs and weapons handling, while befriending other child soldiers. Leaping from one misadventure to the next, Birahima flits between different militias and takes part in acts of violence.
Mindful of the need to maintain the historical accuracy of Ahmadou Kourouma’s original text, whose scathing and quirky tone he professes to being a fan of, director Zaven Najjar (who is making his debut feature with this film) nevertheless wishes to keep a certain distance from the novel. "With my co-screenwriter Karine Winczura, our intention during the whole process of adapting the book was to place Birahima at the centre of the tale and the action. Indeed, whereas in the novel the character is fairly passive and recounts a number of events that he has witnessed, our approach has been quite the opposite: to make him more active so that the viewer is able to empathise with him. It’s an approach that allows us to depict this little boy and his rite of passage more effectively in the context of the civil war."
Allah Is Not Obliged will unfurl a very graphic, colourful and striking visual universe, which, while not turning a blind eye to the full-on violence inherent in this world, will steer clear of descending into gratuitousness. On the Luxembourgish side, studio La Fabrique d’Images will handle the majority of the animation, storyboarding, decor, lay-out and compositing work, while the audio post-production will be overseen by Studio Philophon.
In addition, Paul Thiltges Distributions and Special Touch Studios are also working on co-developing several other projects, including the fiction feature Fanon by Jean-Claude Barny (about Frantz Fanon, an author and psychiatrist from Martinique), the animated flick Sidi Kaba by Rony Hotin and the series African Empire.
(Translated from French)
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