Zinder, in Niger, is a city of passage in the heart of the Sahel. Kara-Kara is one of its marginalized neighbourhoods, historically home to lepers and outcasts. Young people there have formed gangs feared by the population, the “Palaces”, some of whose members cross the threshold of criminality, with the prospect of prison or death, while others are working to get out of the rut. This is the case of Siniya, Bawo and Ramsess, whose survival strategy the director, herself a daughter of Zinder, has chosen to film. They open their world and tell her their story, that of idle youth in search of dignity.
Born in Zinder, Niger, Aïcha Macky is a filmmaker and social change activist. Trained as a sociologist, she then turned to documentaries. She made her first two short films as part of her university education in Niger and then in Senegal. In 2016, she completed the award-winning film The Fruitless Tree which addresses the question of infertility. In 2017, she created her own production company in Niamey. Aïcha is an alumna of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a programme that enabled her to attend courses at Staten Island University in New York on Civic Engagement in 2016. She was awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres de la République Française and Chevalier des Palmes Académiques du Niger for the quality of her artistic work. Aicha is a participant of Sahéliennes 2040, a programme supporting twenty-five creatives to tell their Sahel story differently and envision a future for 2040.
In 2004, I left my native Zinder to pursue a university education in Niamey, over 600 miles away, where I now live. I developed a distanced relationship with my hometown through short stays to visit my relatives who remained there. Zinder seemed far away, but hideous and even shameful echoes reached me – gang rapes, street battles, armed robberies, all sorts of crimes and trafficking – news that seemed like a horror story to me who grew up in that ever so quiet area at the crossroads of the Sahel and the caravan trade route. This was an area where different communities (Tuaregs, Hausas, Kanuris, Fulas, Muslims, Christians…) used to live in peace, although the whole society was already consumed by social divisions. My awakening came in January 2015 as I read a piece of news in which our Minister of Interior commented on a Boko Haram flag spotted during the riots that broke out in Zinder. Youths belonging to the so-called Palais gangs were blamed. For a decade or so, hundreds of gangs have been thriving in my hometown. Their surrounding world is a poor country (the very last in the UN HDI ranking), its resources plundered by foreign firms, a country with very poor work and life prospects, an extremely unstable region with terrorist movements at the borders of Nigeria (some 60 miles from Zinder), Chad, Mali and Algeria. And a country that has become the last border with Europe with its so-called “hotspots” stopping would-be exiles from leaving the continent. Many people thus end up stranded in the Sahel region, which makes the local situation even worse. Be feared and fight in order not to die. Palais (palace) refers to where the Sultan lives, who is the highest civil authority in the city. By naming themselves like that, these youths want to assert themselves as an authority. The gangs challenge the state and are anti-state. They are a time bomb waiting to explode. How to chronicle your own people, yourself, and your hometown, showing how a haven of peace turns into an idle city, pointing to remedies, trying to heal the wounds and the wounded while letting those concerned speak for themselves, to experience the present time with more hope in a city searching for safety —all this was a dangerous mission for a filmmaker and her team. It took me months to get accepted. Now I am. Siniya, Bawo, Ramsess, let me enter their own world. They have a foot inside (the gang) and a foot outside because they want to quit illegality. They have that perspective which allows us to discuss their ways of thinking. They are open to sharing their daily life and survival strategies with me. And above all, being around them keeps changing me. I understood that Kara-Kara could exist anywhere and is just a reflection of our collective behaviours and the result of a divide: them vs. us. I was born in a humble family, but on the right side of the tracks, the other side from the opposite neighbourhood, with dim lights. As a child, I watched them from afar. Now, as a filmmaker, sociologist and activist, discreet as a shadow, I decided to venture around that dimmer opposite hill, across that border that keeps us apart, them and myself and brings their story over to the whole world.
POINT DU JOUR - LES FILMS DU BALIBARI
Clara Vuillermoz was born in 1982 in France. She obtained a master’s degree in film and documentary production at the Sciences Po Lyon in 2015. After working on several film productions in Paris and Lyon, she joined the Nantes-based company Les Films du balibari with the will to develop international creative films. Les Films du balibari was nominated for the Procirep Meilleur Producteur Documentaire Français Award and obtained it in 2019. Clara has produced critically acclaimed documentaries which travelled the world: The Fruitless Tree by Aicha Macky, Interior by Camila Rodriguez and This train I ride by Arno Bitschy. Clara is a Eurodoc graduate (2014) and participated in the documentary film support program of the Sundance Institute (2019).
A graduate in business economics, Ousmane Zoromé Samassékou continued his studies at the Conservatory of Multimedia Arts and Crafts in Bamako. He then obtained a master’s degree in documentary production and creation at the Gaston Berger University in Saint Louis, Senegal. Ousmane is a partner with DS Production in Bamako, where he is a producer, director, DOP and editor. In 2015, he completed his first feature-length documentary film on the evils that hinder training and education in Mali: Les héritiers de la colline, produced by Label Vidéo (France) and DS Production (Mali), which won the Grand Prix du Jury at the Agadir Festival and special mention of the Jury at the AMAA Awards . His latest feature-length documentary The Last Shelter was presented at the IDFA Forum in 2019 (round tables) and 2020 (rough cut) under the working title Witnesses from the Shadow (Les témoins de l’ombre). With this project, Ousmane participated in the IDFA Summer School and the IDFA Academy in 2019. As co-producer of Aïcha Macky’s ZINDER, produced by Tabous productions (Niger), Les films du balibari and Corso films, he participated in the Atlas workshops in 2020, la Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde at the Cannes Film Festival, the Ouaga Film Lab and the Produire au Sud workshops of the 3 Continents film festival in Nantes. In October 2018, he won the producer networks grant at the Ouaga Producer Lab with the project Tonso.
Don Edkins is a South African documentary filmmaker and producer based in Cape
Town. He has produced documentary film projects that have been broadcast around
the world, such as Steps for the Future, Why Democracy? and Why Poverty? earning
multiple international awards, including an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side, and the
Special Teddy Award at the 63rd Berlinale for Steps for the Future. The Peabody
awarded Why Poverty? Project, with documentary films from 21 countries, was
screened globally by 70 broadcasters. He is Executive Producer of AfriDocs, a free-to-
view VOD platform and broadcast strand across Africa that screens the best African
and international documentary films. He is currently producing a new documentary film
project with African filmmakers across the continent, Generation Africa, around the
theme of migration.
Tiny Mungwe is a documentary film and arts producer. She currently works at STEPS
(Social Transformation and Empowerment Projects) where she produces Generation
Africa, a pan-African anthology of 25 documentary films from 16 countries in Africa, on
the topic of migration. Mungwe’s films include Akekho uGogo, a 48 minute
documentary about urban youth culture, which screened at several festivals including
the Durban International Film Festival, Apollo Film Festival and DOKANEMA Festival.
Her short film script Evelyn was selected for the National Film and Video Foundation
(NFVF) Women Filmmaker Project and she directed another short film in the program,
Daddy’s Boy. She has written for some of the highest rating South African television
dramas such as Muvhango and Matatiele, and was one of the directors on the series
Uzalo. For several years she worked as a festival organizer and programmer for four
international festivals, namely Time of the Writer, the Durban International Film
Festival, Jomba! Contemporary Dance Festival and Poetry Africa. During that time she also worked on the program for Durban FilmMart (the co-production market of the festival) and Talents Durban (a career development program for emerging African filmmakers in partnership with Berlinale Talents). She continues to work as a program curation associate for the Durban FilmMart. She also programmed and curated the city of Durban’s inaugural book and art fair, ARTiculate Africa.