Last year Philippe Lacôte’s debut feature film Run was selected to represent the Ivory Coast as a contender in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 88th Academy Awards. Lacôte is a filmmaker from Ivory Coast, who has produced various short films and documentaries.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
As a director, my stories are strongly rooted in reality. I like to set scenes in places without stopping the life that’s going on, and let the real life support the fiction. In the end, we don’t know which character comes from fiction or which comes from real life.
Do you have any mentors in the industry?
I was living in the south of France when I made my first short film, Sleepwalker, which was shot on 16mm black and white film. The sound engineer Fabrice Gares and I decided to go to Clermont-Ferrand and show the film during the festival. We managed to rent a theatre outside the official screenings and tried to invite some professionals… the day of the screening, there was only one spectator in the theatre, a man who sternly watched the film until the end. When the screening was over he came to me and encouraged me to continue. So this man was my first ‘mentor’ and my first spectator at the same time. Then there were others, people who passed on the craft of filmmaking to me.
What is your favourite African and international film, why?
It’s difficult to make such a difference between films. Obviously there’s a political one, but not an artistic one. When I look at a film, I never look at it according to its nationality or to the continent where it comes from (unless the nationality is essential to catch the film), but according to the poetic world the director proposes me to enter into. There’s a film called The Lost Necklace of the Dove by director Nacer Khémir. I like it a lot, because everything in this film becomes possible, in terms of imagination as well as for the story. It’s a philosophical tale about all the meaning of love in Arabic language, and the director isn’t afraid of opening all kinds of ‘narrative doors’. And I also like all of Ozu’s films. And the films by Andreï Tarkovski, whose work and reflections on film have accompanied me during years, to the extent that I put on stage his diary, read by French actor Denis Lavant (Mauvais Sang, Holy Motors).
Where do you get your story ideas from?
From everywhere… They can come from quite insignificant details. And then they sort of crystallise, become persistent… I’m a big press reader. Most of the time I stop on still images, rarely moving images, which I wish to extend narratively.
Which five film characters would you invite to a dinner party?
The couple in Touki Bouki by Djibril Diop Mambety. The young man as interpreted by Mangaye Niang, who came back 30 years later to recognise himself on screen in A Thousand Suns by Mati Diop. Jack Torrance, the character played by Jack Nicholson in The Shining; Harry Powell, played by Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse, which actually makes six. Guess it would be quite a crazy dinner party…
What does the future of film in Africa look like to you?
The future of film in Africa is new screens opening in countries where there are none, and many countries are in this situation. The problem is these screens are connected to Hollywood blockbusters’ pipelines. Will films telling something about this continent’s imaginary have access to these new screens? Will the states organise a repartition of the revenues from the screening of Hollywood films allowing other films, I mean allowing African directors to shoot their films? And how, as a director, can I be not disconnected from my audience if these new screens don’t show African films? This is, I think, the next challenge.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my next feature called Zama, a street gang drama inspired by a true story. The project is part of the Torino Film Lab, which is a very challenging place for scriptwriting. Zama is the story of a post-war gang leader, whose members where aged eight to 20, and who was lynched in the streets of Abidjan last year. The scene was filmed and posted on Facebook. Zama will tell his story: how he lived, how he died, how he fought against a giant Scorpio… My intention is to continue to tell the history of violence in Ivory Coast. Shooting will take place in August 2017.
If you could shoot a film anywhere in the world, where would it be?
In Ivory Coast, in the MACA: the jail of Abidjan, surrounded by deep forest in the outskirts of the city.
What do you do when you aren’t making movies?
When I’m not making movies, I’m searching for a way to make movies. This is because I’m also part of my film’s production process. I don’t make a separation between making films and creating the conditions that will make the film exist.
What has been your proudest moment as a director?
It will be the next scene that I will shoot, which is the opening scene from Zama: a fire burning on a wasteland; a herd of cows passes, led by a child, to drink in the lagoon. A young man with his body tattooed all over walks out of the water, surrounded by three policemen…
What is your favourite one-liner from a film?
“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”
What songs make up your most recent music playlist?
The music I listen to is often linked to my work, and to atmospheres I’m searching for a film. These days it’s Saeta by Miles Davis, a sort of military march with trumpet that could accompany a battle quite particular, where enemies confront through mystical powers.
If you could produce an African version of a Hollywood classic, what would it be?
Scarface by Howard Hawks. Or one of Fritz Lang’s Hollywood films, Moonfleet.