[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance '07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
Take Mark Borchardt (the passionate, amateur filmmaker from Chris Smith's "American Movie") put him in a small Tunsian town, ratchet up the on-set insanity, give him a loyal following and you'll have Kahloucha, the hysterical subject of Nejib Belkadhi's doc "VHS-Kahloucha." Kahloucha is the writer/director of such films as "I Had No Money and Now I'm Loaded" and "Misery to Get Rid of the Booze." Belkadhi works hard to keep up with the filmmaker as he embarks on a new production, "Tarzan of the Arabs," by recruiting any and everyone for speaking parts and generally engulfing the mundane lives of the townspeople with his unbridled exuberance. "VHS-Kahloucha" screens as part of Sundance's World Documentary competition.
Please introduce yourself. Where were you born, and where do you live now?
My name is Nejib Belkadhi and I am 34. This is my first feature film. I did many TV shows and commercials and got into the business first as an actor. I have a degree in economy and marketing. I was born in Tunis in the 13th of May in 1972 at 8 PM, it was Saturday... helps me to know where I come from. I still live in a beautiful suburb of Tunis called La Marsa. It's by the sea.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
I have become a filmmaker because I used to write when I was a child. I never got into cameras and all the movie stuff, my universe is more about writing and imagination. When I became an actor I got in touch with the world of creation. Since then, I felt the need to take a camera and tell stories in a different way.
How did you learn about filmmaking?
I never attended a film school. With me it's about exploring humanity through technique and technique is somehow easy to learn. Can feelings and sensitivity be taught in schools? I don't think so.
How did you finance your film?
All the money we earned doing commercials and TV series was invested in this film.
How did the initial idea for "VHS-Kahloucha" come about?
My film is about a house painter called Kahloucha and whose passion is to make films in his poor neighborhood. He shoots his action films in VHS with his neighbors and friends and shows his films in the cafe.
My producer and big friend, Imed Marzouk, told me about Kahloucha. Since then it's been an obsession. I waited so long to shoot this great story. When we began shooting the film, it was about knowing the main character and understanding his approach. An illiterate amateur who makes films like "Tarzan of the Arabs" is the most colorful character that a director can dream of.
What was your approach to making the film? What are your overall goals for the project?
Our approach was to stick to his amateur logic without falling into amateurism ourselves. It's been very hard and tough to handle because Kahloucha has a different approach of filmmaking: he doesn't care about sound or continuity, the casting is always made in a random way, no set designer, no make-up artist, no script. Just raw cinema.
When we shot the film, we were only like trying to tell a story. For three years we have been working hard to edit the film and raise funds for post production. When we got selected in the Cannes film festival it was really the beginning of a great story and that is still going on. We got funds to post, then we got selected to open one of the biggest documentary festivals in Europe: FID Marseilles. We also won the prize for best documentary film in Dubai and now we are in Sundance.
Describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance. Where were you, and how did you react?
The selection in Sundance was some of the most beautiful news we ever had in our short professional career. When we received the selection mail, we shouted all together at once and closed the office to go and have a drink. We spent the whole day drinking and we had so much fun!!!!!!
As a filmmaker, I always dreamt of being in Sundance and now it's reality. Just one thing, hope it's not that cold! :)
What are your goals for the festival?
We hope that Sundance will allow us to distribute the film in the States. Another thing, I would love for Clint Eastwood to see the film for he is the idol of Kahloucha, our main character. In a great scene, Kahloucha shows us how fond of Eastwood he is and plays the part of Eastwood in the final scene of Sergio Leone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly." It is one of the most beautiful moments in the film.
What is your definition of "independent film"?
Independent film is, above all, a state of mind. It is a whole different conception of cinema. It is like dealing with the filmmaking without thinking about a film career. It's having a producer as a friend and the crew as a family. This is the way I work. Sorry for not being that professional, but cinema for me is more about feelings and alchemy. Without alchemy I prefer to stay at home.
What are some of your favorite films?
Favorite films... Let me see... I have got so many:
"Amarcord" by Federico Fellini (for its fantasy and its poetic lightness)
"Desperate Living" by John Waters (for giving me the greatest laughter of all time)
"Barry Lyndon" by Stanley Kubrick (for its formal perfection and the music of Schubert that fits so marvelously the images)
"M" by "Fritz Lang" (for its stunning accuracy and incredible innovations)
"Kagemusha" by Akira Kurosawa (for its strength)
"Underground" by Emir Kusturika (because no other film ever mixed laughter and tears that well)
"Freaks" by Tod Browning (for its compassion and its great message.)
"Casino" by "Martin Scorsese" (for Sharon Stone being the best actress on earth in this movie)
"Mars Attacks" by Tim Burton (for its cheap genius, so precious, so rare in a system that doesn't allow it)
And many many others...
What are your New Year's resolutions?
To bring my film to the audiences, and write the next one. Simple!
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