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film as process

This Day Won’t Last will screen in MO Museum - Vilnius, Nida and Klaipeda (Lithuania) as a part of Suspaustas Laikas Experimental Cinema and Arts Festival

21/7 - MO Museum, 18:00
5/8 - Nida, Evangelical Lutheran Church, 22:00
12/8 - Klaipeda, Hofas Yard, 20:00

text by Miki Ambrózy

What Could One Say About Something That is Not Supposed to Exist

Foreword to the Screening of This Day Won’t Last
July 2021

What follows here is my conversation with Mouaad el Salem and Nour al Amal, creators of the film This Day Won’t Last. This film is a humble and courageous testimony to the act of creation, as well as a powerful argument in the fight against regimes that are fearful of change and difference.

Why care about this? For one, Hungary’s government-owned media is afloat with the verbal debris of contemporary right-wing misinformation on LGBTQ issues. The least I can offer as a left-leaning (post)humanist thinker is a few words in defense of the vulnerbale. Second, we are screening the film in my current home of Lithuania, which is just as hypocritical in its approach to giving a voice to its own LGBTQ citizens as my native Hungary. 

So, dear Hungarian and Lithuanian friends, family members and acquaintances, I challenge you to come and witness what it is like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning in a repressive environment, gracefully told using low and hi-fidelity images and sounds by Mouaad and Nour.

Interview - Read On-Screen with Audio
Interview - Listen Only

In Conversation

Miki Ambrózy:  I was most touched by the courage taken in creating this film. Is there a method for gathering courage? You worked together on this project from 2017 October until 2020 February. Three years seems to me like a complete cycle in a lifetime - much more relevant in scale than the calendar year. What kept you going? Were there people who gave you courage or strength? Can you describe for me the journey of how your inner desire to finish this film changed over time?

Mouaad el Salem: This project started when my cousin and I joined forces. I felt this necessity to tell the story of me and my friends: to prove that we are here and to leave a trace. I’m passionate about cinema so I asked Nour, who has experience in filmmaking, to help me.

Nour al Amal: At first we were enthusiastic to start this adventure. Things were moving: there was a lot of activism and manifestations. We had the impression that Article 230[1] could be abolished soon. In the beginning we really believed that the film would be ready at the moment of the abolition. As a kind of apotheosis.

Mouaad el Salem: My idea was to make a classical documentary. I wanted to interview my friends who are activists. To pay tribute to their courage. Place them in the spotlight. At first they were enthusiastic. When things became more concrete they didn’t show up out of fear. By now, most of them have left the country.

I still had this urge to tell about us, our existence, and our fears and I soon realized that I would be the one to do it. So, we’ve looked for a way that was personal but safe with the technical material at hand.

Nour al Amal: The making of this film wasn’t a straight line. The distance between us was a challenge and the fear and insecurity made it at times very fuzzy. In the first phase I’ve sent Mouaad disposable cameras. Because an undeveloped image is a non-existing image - so we wouldn’t be in danger while travelling with the footage. I was wondering all the time if a film could be a safe space. Talking and listening to each other was one way to align our thoughts, expectations and dreams.

Mouaad el Salem: David Chaloiti joined in the final phase of the making. He’s a Tunisian activist who fled the country 5 years ago. He joined us as a sound engineer, but in fact he helped us move forward in many ways. When he entered the process, it became more than a ‘family project’. He knew what I was talking about, so he helped me to gather my thoughts and believe again in the importance of the film.

Nour al Amal: Huda Asfour, who made the music for the film, was also a good conversation partner. She was motivated to add some hope via her music.

There was a moment where I decided we had enough material to finish this film. The first of december 2019 was for me the date to stop collecting images and sound and start the final edit. Mouaad wasn’t so sure. He had the impression that there was some salt and pepper missing. The images of the manifestation held on the 30th of November 2019 were the breakthrough.

Mouaad el Salem: Yes, those images give hope and show that we’re many.

MA: I'm very interested in the combination of low-definition and high-definition images side by side. I find the reality of the image/textures in your film very much speaking about the struggle for LGBTQ emancipation in the cultural context of Tunisia (or Hungary, or Lithuania, and so on). The single-use analogue camera, the phone image, the voice, the point of view in the opening shots, the found footage of the fig tree. These, for me, speak about being in-between. Between the elite images of cinema and the poor resolution recordings of our phones, between the fragility of the desire for freedom/belonging and the rigidity of the legal code, the narrow-mindedness of cultural milieus.

Could you tell me about your practice of combining such different textures, images, media?

Mouaad el Salem: I tried to capture my vision of reality with the photographs. I made pictures of things and places that calm me down or in situations that stress me. Even before we worked on the film, I was already capturing my surroundings, my friends, and my reality with my phone. Nour and I exchanged images and thoughts via the internet.

Nour al Amal: Halfway through the process we decided that we wouldn’t take unnecessary risks and that Mouaad needed to stay anonymous in the film. Of course this was a very sad decision to make: We want to make something visible that is invisible and again we need to hide ourselves. The cellphone images capture his daily life, his reality and help the viewer to get closer.

Mouaad el Salem: Everything was done very spontaneously. I wanted it that way. The structure was created gradually. In fact I feel that, to pass on a message, you don’t need good image and sound quality.

Nour found these images of the fig tree. I was happy with that idea. We both have our roots in Tunisia, but our perspective is very different. Nour doesn’t know the real face of Tunisia, so I could introduce her to that. She lives in freedom. I don’t.

There were so many things that I wanted to say, but I couldn’t find the right words. I live in my parents’ house, so there’s not so much privacy here. I’ve only seen my own film on the phone with which I shot most of the images…

Nour al Amal: Miki, you’ve sent us a text by Hito Steyerl ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’. She makes reference to the Cuban filmmaker Julio Garcia Espinosa who wrote ‘For an imperfect cinema’ in 1979. For Espinosa, images become revolutionary if the spectator and the creator are close. So not an elite producing ‘perfect’ images for the masses. He says:

“The essential lesson of popular art is that it is carried out as a life activity: man must not fulfill himself as an artist but fully; the artist must not seek fulfillment as an artist but as a human being.”

MA: Let’s turn to the right to live in freedom. "We have also marched for freedom," the narrator says in the film. I sense his desire to be recognized by one ideology (national narrative) to legitimize something that shouldn't need a request: the right to belong, to love and be loved. But to change the system, one has to perhaps prove their place in it first.

The low-resolution images are used in a beautifully composed and fluid way. For me, these images do the work of making legitimate: the filmmakers' fragile reality is asserted in the face of the dominant culture, the oppressive and exclusive (high-res) image. Oppressed in one place, the images travel easily, because of their low-definition, into other places where they are releasing their power.

You created a work of art that is a vehicle for dialogue. Do you continue seeing art as a tool for emancipation?

Mouaad el Salem: It’s hard for me to answer this question, because it hurts. Tunisia is taking steps backwards instead of forward. The film gets attention, so I feel less alone. I met a lot of interesting people online, thanks to festivals.

Nour al Amal: The film is travelling there where Mouaad can’t, but Tunisian and arab film festivals don’t want to show the film. Maybe they don’t like it - which is okay, or maybe they don’t dare to program it. Our goal is that youngsters in Mouaads situation can have access to this film and we want that people in power see the film and understand that they need to take action.

Our collaboration continues and if the film won’t do it’s work in Tunisia, we will look for other ways.

Mouaad el Salem: Like in the rest of the world there is a lot of police brutality here. When there are manifestations, they film us with drones to expose our identity via facebook. There is really a witch hunt going on. Rania Amdouni and Sandra recently left the country.

Again we lost 2 loud and proud voices. We exist, but it seems that the country thinks they are better off without us. I’m determined to stay here and fight for my right to live my life here, but I’m not sure if I’ll always have the courage to keep going.

[1] Article 230 of Tunisia’s penal code criminalises homosexuality with up to three years in jail. It is a remnant of French colonial rule.