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Posted 15.01.16

Film students invited to discuss their ‘remarkably powerful’ film at conference

By Sarah Packer

Tarig and Russell were invited to the Culture and Conflict conference in Luton to discuss their film 'Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie'. Photo by Dan Twine.

Following an award win at NAHEMI Eat Our Shorts 2015, a successful screening and panel talk at the 'Culture in Conflict' conference in Luton and shortlisted for an RTS Award. The short film 'Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie' by third year BA (Hons) Film students Tarig Elmakki, Russell Cleave and Paul Chanter is a response to the events in Paris on 7 January 2015 and has been described as 'remarkably powerful'.

We caught up with student Russell Cleave – one member of the creative trio – to talk about the film, its challenges and the idea behind it.

Hi Russell, congratulations on your success so far, tell us about your film ‘Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie’.

The film is a study into how sound and imagery in film can dictate the way you perceive a situation, culture or emotion. The idea of the film came about after numerous conversations between myself and Tarig about widening the gap between the opinion of Muslims and extremists.

Still from the film 'Je ne suis pas Charlie'.

We sat and watched hours of US and UK media coverage of terrorist attacks and border control issues and how they were presented in a very fear driven way. At the time we had been given a module brief and the Charlie Hebdo attacks were happening so everything just clicked into place.

Within the module we had also taken an in-depth look at Gus Van Zant’s ‘Elephant’ which is a film of different perspectives on the events leading up to the Columbine High school massacre.

It’s a weird but also a great feeling to say you have an award winning film, especially when you only really began to understand filmmaking fully within the last two and a half years on the film degree. 

With a language barrier for Tarig and my focus being more within cinematography we decided to draft in Paul for his writing and directing skills. Tarig’s insight and knowledge helped make us clear on a few issues around how muslim prayers are presented in film, if it is shown in the wrong order or certain movements are wrong it can be seen as very offensive.

What were you looking to achieve with the film?

Initially it was a film to fit a project brief and nothing more, but from the first screening we realised that people were getting more from this than we thought they would. It’s been nominated for an RTS award and it won the NAHEMI audience choice award in Regent Street London which was incredible.

Behind the scenes of the film with Russell Cleave

What did you want the audience to take from it?

We wanted people to realise how easy it is to be manipulated into a train of thought that suits a certain set of political values. The Arabic singing with the imagery of black boots and a gun to someone uneducated in Islamic religion would read as terrorist activity, but the film reveals a different story which is totally innocent yet tragic.

"We showed Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie in our conference to conclude the year-long Culture in Conflict project. Reversing the usual order, we presented four student films about religious conflict and the young filmmakers spoke about their work to an adult audience that included academics, council officers and peace activists in Luton. We were delighted to show JNSPC, which honoured Ahmed Merabet, the policeman killed by the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo incident, and simultaneously overturned stereotypes about Muslim extremists." — Jim Hornsby, Runaway Media.

Tell us about the Culture in Conflict conference you attended in Luton and how that came about.

Lucy Leake, our programme leader, screened the film at an event at the BFI and it caused a bit of a debate on many levels – one of the guests at the event was Jim Hornsby who is part of the Culture in Conflict Festival team. Jim approached Lucy about screening the film at the festival and invited the three of us to come to take part in a Q&A after the screening of the film.

Tarig and Russell were invited to the Culture and Conflict conference in Luton to discuss their film 'Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie'. Photo by Dan Twine.

What was the response at the conference when you discussed your film?

It was great! There was a really broad section of religions represented in the audience so I personally was a little worried about the feedback, but it was 100% positive.

Tarig brought up some quite controversial points, like the fact that some of the richest countries in the world are Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and they have the financial ability to dominate world media, but for some reason they don’t which brings up an entirely different set of questions.

Still from the film 'Je ne suis pas Charlie'

Your film also won Best Film at NAHEMI, how did that feel?

The NAHEMI was again down to Lucy, she had submitted the film on our behalf and we were really excited to hear that it was chosen to be screened as part of their selection.

I sadly couldn’t attend due to other creative commitments so Tarig and our film lecturer Andy James attended to represent us. On the night I received a text from Tarig saying that we had won the audience vote.

When Russell, Tarig and Paul first showed me Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie, I knew immediately that this was something special. It has real resonance, and the response at NAHEMI and the conference confirmed that. — Lucy Leake, BA (Hons) Film programme leader.

It’s a weird but also a great feeling to say you have an award winning film, especially when you only really began to understand filmmaking fully within the last two and a half years on the film degree.

How has the film been received so far?

Most people who have watched it often describe it as ‘dark’ but in a positive way. It’s been under wraps for a while due to the sensitive nature of the narrative, so there was a period of time where we didn’t even know whether we should even put our names on it, so it’s only just getting its outing now really.

Russell speaking at the Conflict and Culture conference in Luton. Photo by Dan Twine.

Where are you taking it next? We hear British Muslim TV are interested in screening it?

I have no idea where this is going next – the whole situation has been a series of events that have built and grown organically and I personally like that approach with anything creative, It feels like the work is speaking for itself that way.

We wanted people to realise how easy it is to be manipulated into a train of thought that suits a certain set of political values.

It sounds like your programme leader Lucy Leake played a big part in getting you to put the film out there.

Completely, Lucy has been particularly supportive and the film wouldn’t have had the nomination without her interest in the film. She’s been the one making us push it and fighting our corner when we’ve had doubts which is awesome.

Also our lecturer John Sealey, who set the original project brief for this film, has been backing this film from day one and without the college’s Equipment Resource Centre we could never have given it the level of production value it has now.

The film had an incredible response at the conference with Tarig discussing controversial topics that the film raises. Photo by Dan Twine.

Having said that, from a personal point of view I would like to reshoot it because of how much we have progressed creatively and technically since making the film, but I guess that’s the kind of thing most creative people would say!

So what are each of you looking to do in the future?

Tarig is ready to take on the world with documentary and narrative films with a way to challenge cultures and ideas globally. Myself and Paul are in the preparation stages for setting up a small production team ‘South of Devon Films’ making drama based narrative film.

Still from the film 'Je ne suis pas Charlie'

Paul has a real good head for writing and directing, whereas my field is more within aesthetic moods with lighting and cinematography. I have a huge passion for the South West and really want to push some quality drama, based and produced in Devon and Cornwall. 

We are really stereotyped in this part of the country and I’d love to show some real positive underground culture that is over flowing down here if you care to look for it. I think between us we have a lot of angles covered.

BA (Hons) Film programme leader Lucy Leake said, "I first publicly presented the film in July 2015, when I was selected for inclusion at the NAHEMI's Annual Conference at the BFI. The theme for the conference was ‘Teaching Moving Image in the Age of the Internet’, with a particular focus on ethics.

"Feedback from the NAHEMI members was overwhelmingly positive. Without exception, they encouraged me to push this film into the festival circuit, to get it out there and to share as widely as possible.

It was nominated for a local RTS Award for Fiction  and won the NAHEMI Eat Our Shorts 2015 Audience vote for best film, winning the filmmakers £50 Amazon vouchers and an ARRI workshop for the students, which will be taking place in February this year. — Lucy Leake, BA (Hons) Film programme leader.

"When Russell, Tarig and Paul first showed me Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie, I knew immediately that this was something special. It has real resonance, and the response at NAHEMI and the conference confirmed that.

"It was nominated for a local RTS Award for Fiction and won the NAHEMI Eat Our Shorts 2015 Audience vote for best film, winning the filmmakers £50 Amazon vouchers and an ARRI workshop for the students, which will be taking place in February this year. We'll be selecting appropriate festivals to submit to throughout the coming year."

You can read more about the conference here.

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