Alice Diop, face of another cinema

“I’ve been making films for twenty years, but it’s as if I was born on September 10”, smiled Alice Diop. The date in question is that of the closing ceremony of the Venice Film Festival. On the stage of the Palais du Cinéma, on the island of Lido, the French director won the Silver Lion (Grand Jury Prize) and the first film prize for Saint Omer, in theaters November 23. She almost eclipsed the world star Cate Blanchett, awarded as best actress for her role as conductor in Tar (from Todd Field). During her speech, Alice Diop was initially surprised by “no longer have the words”, before quoting black American feminist Audre Lorde: My silences had not protected me. Your silence won’t protect you either. » Then she concluded: “We will no longer be silent. »

A month later, in a cafe in Montreuil, very close to her home, in Seine-Saint-Denis, she evokes these last exhausting weeks. She wears a black dress with red stitching like sutures, heavy golden earrings, a snake-shaped bracelet on her wrist and long braids pulled up into a bun. She has since received the prestigious Jean Vigo prize, and Saint Omer was appointed to represent France at the Oscars in February 2023.

A personal success, of course, for the 43-year-old filmmaker. But also a sign of the times, which consecrates a black woman, from the long confidential world of documentary. Not yet a symbol or a megaphone, but the index of an evolution of French cinema which, in recent years, has brought out new faces, from diversity or LGBT communities, in front of and behind the camera.

And a kind of snub to the front page of Film French which hit the headlines in September. Under the title Objective: reconquest! the specialized magazine posed, around Jérôme Seydoux, president of Pathé, six white and heterosexual actors (Guillaume Canet, Pierre Niney, Vincent Cassel…). Black, female (member of the 50/50 Collective which campaigns for gender equality and diversity in French cinema), Alice Diop could appear as a new face of French cinema. Except that she has been there for two decades. Diversity in culture has always been there. The era is just beginning to see it.

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Eight noteworthy documentaries

The director is therefore far from being a beginner: Saint Omer is certainly her first fiction feature film, but she has already signed eight documentaries in various formats and has been abundantly rewarded over the years. Prize of the Cinéma du réel festival in 2016, Permanence filmed migrants who had come to see a doctor for body ailments who recounted their painful life journeys. Crowned with the César for best short film in 2017, Towards tenderness was leaning on “the way men in the neighborhoods talk about their love or sexual life”, in the words of the director in an interview with the literary magazine din, in 2016.

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