LUX Prize Nomination 2010 – Oliver Masset-Depasse, director
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Interview with Olivier Masset-Depasse, Director and Writer of Illégal (Illegal)
Olivier Masset-Depasse became interested in detention centres for illegal immigrants and the plight of those who live there after a television program made him realize that there was such a center just 15 kilometers from his house. He started a year-long investigation with a journalist from the Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir and a lawyer from the Belgian Human Rights League. He also visited one of these centers on several occasions to get an accurate picture of both the detainees and their guards. His findings led him to make this film. He had previously made a feature which was a romance. But now, with his awareness of such a social issue, his attention next will turn toward a project about passport trafficking in Europe told as a spy story. While in L.A., before he goes to Palm Springs Film Festival where the press will cover this U.S. debut more fully, he has met with UTA about casting his next film with an American as the main character. The film will be in English and French.
His motive in making Illegal was to raise people’s awareness. His main character is Tania, a 39-year-old Russian woman who has been living illegally in Belgium for some ten years with her 14 year old son. Although the authorities refused her application for asylum, she manages to find a job and send her son to school. She lives in constant fear of the authorities. One day, a police check leads to her arrest. They place her in a detention center while her young son manages to escape and takes refuge at a friend’s home. And so she begins her fight for her dignity and her right to stay in Belgium.
How much can people seeking asylum endure? How can the rights of the individual be balanced against those of the state? Are the guards victims of the system? How can asylum requests better take people’s individual stories into account?
Among the guards who live in the detention center itself, relationships do form and sometimes they help the detainees. The police who must move the prisoners from the centers, usually to deport them, are a different breed. They see no human side, only numbers of assignments. Their brutality is known. In this film there is an African woman who has avoided deportation eight times, and the police are especially brutal with her. The complaints against police brutality has led to more than fifty complaints of human rights violation and Belgium (not the only European nation) has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights four times for abusive treatment of Illegals.
Obviously the issue of illegal immigrants is one that hits every country in these days of social turmoil. This film takes the particular case of this determined woman and makes a drama which should be seen by many people. Since its premiere in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight where it won the SACD Award from the Rights Management body whose committee was headed by Bertrand Tavernier, Films Distribution has licensed the film to Film Movement who will release the film in the U.S. in the next couple of months day and date with cable VoD (Watch f more to come on Film Movement.), O’Brother Distribution for Belgium where it will be shown to many human rights groups as well as to the public, Haut et Court for France, Feel Good Entertainment for Greece, Agora for Switzerland, Archibald for Italy among others.