It’s always a little bit daunting to be in the presence of an artist–especially when it’s an art you know very little about, yet interact with on a daily basis. Christophe is a filmmaker. Half Egyptian, half Swiss, he moved from Cairo to Lausanne when he was 18 to pursue a career in film at ECAL. His films have been premiered around the world, and his most recent film ‘Discipline’ has won over 80 awards, including the Swiss Academy Award ‘The Quartz’ for best short film in 2015. Suffice it to say, Christophe is really good at what he does.
Christophe is young; he’s soft-spoken and thoughtful about his responses. We arrange to meet at the l’Hermitage museum on a Saturday afternoon just as the sun is beginning to emerge after a morning of torrential rain. We sit and drink tea and make our acquaintances until he says, “Let’s walk. I can’t sit and talk,” and we begin to walk the trails that surround the museum’s muddy grounds. This is where he comes to think–this is where he comes to imagine what might be the next focus of his lens. And it’s true…the minute we begin to walk amongst the freckled paths, the sun dappling through the cutouts of each leaf, he begins to open up about his life, his films, his passion projects, and the one thing he thinks about more than filming: food.
Though Christophe creates both fiction and nonfiction films, his subject matter is always focused on something very real and relevant to societal structures. Whether it’s touching on cultural clashes, xenophobia, injustice, or the illusions we feed ourselves to escape reality, his films are poignant sometimes to the point of discomfort. We asked Christophe a few questions about his career in film, as well as his life here Lausanne:
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do. What got you into filmmaking?
I’m half Egyptian, half Swiss. I grew up in Cairo and moved to Lausanne about 6 years ago to study film at the University of Arts and Design of Lausanne (ECAL). I graduated two years ago and today I’m focusing on writing/directing fiction and documentaries. I’ve wanted to be a filmmaker for quite some time. At the time when DVDs started coming out, I would watch the ‘making of’ segments of every film I could get my hands on, and I realized pretty quickly that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I found it incredible that from so many false elements, we can create a new reality. This has always fascinated me, it’s like a big magic trick. Films are also an escape for most people, including myself of course, and at the same time they can also confront you with things you would tend to shy away from. Cinema is a very powerful communication tool.
How would you describe your aesthetic? What kind of films do you shoot and why? In a similar vein, what are you favorite things to shoot?
I took me a while to find my own voice, and I don’t think I will ever settle on a specific style or aesthetic. My documentaries are shot ‘on the go’, in the sense that I don’t prepare for what I’m about to shoot, the story unfolds as you see it. One thing you’ll find in all my fiction films is a lot of dialogue. I love listening to people talk, argue, debate and even yell at each other. Adding different languages, accents, nuances to a conversation on screen is just music to my ears. I tend to focus on social dramas; deeply human stories with internal conflicts rather than external. Filmmaking is all about bringing together what should separated and separating what should be together. A story, whether it’s a film, a book, an anecdote from work, is all about some routine that got broken; the status quo was disrupted–that’s where are all stories begin. That disruption might have been caused by the smallest of actions, and it doesn’t matter, there’s a story worth telling. My style and sense of taste is always going to evolve but as long as the emotion is there, I’ll tell whatever story I feel is right. Lots of dialogue is probably something I will hold on to forever.
We noticed that some of your films tend to touch on immigration/immigrants or the notion of “the other”—what makes you interested in this subject matter? Has living in Switzerland influenced your lens/perspective as a filmmaker?
I was born in a Arabic speaking country but went to French and American schools. My family is Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. My father’s family lives a very primitive village in the south of Egypt and my mother’s family are conservative farmers in the Jura/Bernois. Growing up we spoke a mix of Arabic, French and English at home. I feel as much Egyptian as I feel Swiss. I’ve always been torn between so many different elements, I struggled to find my place when I was younger. I realized that I belong everywhere as well as nowhere. When I arrived in Switzerland I was an immigrant and yet I wasn’t at all. I faced a strange culture shock when I moved; everything was so familiar yet so new. Part of my Egyptian family moved to Switzerland in search for a better life and to provide for their family back home. I saw and still see the struggle they face to integrate themselves and adapt to this new way of life. All these different elements have deeply influenced who I am today and by definition the way I make films.
What are you favorite things about living in Lausanne?
I think more about food then anything else during the day. Discovering new places with good food is one of my favorite things to do in Lausanne… or anywhere actually. In Lausanne, I’m a regular customer of Chez Xu (Chinese restaurant), Pla Tu Thong (Thaï Restaurant), and any Korean restaurants. I love going to ‘La Clef’ bar that is downtown. I also love walking around l’Hermitage and the woods of Sauvabelin to brainstorm.
Thank you Christophe for spending the afternoon with us, and sharing such insight into your beautiful films. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!
You can watch the trailers to his recent films here:
-Or- check him out on SwissFilms.ch here