Adolf El Assal • Director of Sawah
"I'm lucky to be able to use my personal experiences in order to talk about funny situations and to show another side of Luxembourg"
by Guilhem Caillard
- Luxembourgish director of Egyptian origin Adolf El Assal chats to us about his latest film, Sawah, as well as his journey, his influences and projects in the pipeline
Cineuropa met with Luxembourg filmmaker Adolf El Assal who recently gave us Sawah [+see also:
interview: Adolf El Assal
film profile], the first instalment of a semi-autobiographical trilogy and a comedy swathed in his own personal story.
Cineuropa: You rose to mainstream fame in Luxembourg with Les Gars [+see also:
film profile], your first official full-length film (following two self-produced titles), in 2012. But you chose to prolong the film’s national release window by working with Dailymotion. Could you talk to us about this decision?
Adolf El Assal: With this film, my aim was to make a name for myself locally, but also to move beyond our national borders, which was no easy thing. I hoped that this comedy, with its interesting cast (including the rapper and comedian Orelsan), would help me reach a wider Francophone audience, but the offers I received from French and Belgian distributers weren’t interesting enough. That’s why I decided to terminate the contract I had with a Canadian sales agent and to take things in hand myself. I told myself that I could distribute the film in France myself by using the new technologies which were readily available online. At the time, VoD wasn’t very well established and it didn’t have the impact that it does today. Journalists in France took me for something of a kamikaze...
Comedy seems to be your favoured genre...
It’s the most difficult genre to control. In fact, it’s often said that comedies don’t travel and that it’s hard to make audiences laugh outside of your own national territory. But it’s precisely this challenge that motivates me, and I’m trying to find my voice. As a generation X child who grew up in Luxembourg, my influences are very mixed and hail from Anglophone, Francophone, Germanophone and Arab-speaking worlds. That’s why I think I’m able to adapt. I’m lucky to be able to use my personal experiences in order to talk about funny situations and to show another side of Luxembourg.
How does the subject-matter of your latest film Sawah resonate with your own particular journey?
In Sawah, I wanted to talk about how I ended up in Luxembourg with my parents by “mistake”. When I was 6-7 years old, my parents - who lived in the UAE at the time - were travelling in Europe during the summer holidays and one of their destinations was Brussels. When their train stopped at Luxembourg City they were convinced they’d arrived at their final destination and they disembarked. It was entirely by accident that they discovered this little country that we’d never even heard of before! It became our new home. And that’s exactly what happens to Samir’s character in Sawah. What's more, roughly 80% of the situations featured in the film are those which I myself experienced in the Grand Duchy. I myself was a DJ and I had similar problems with my papers. I also had one or two burlesque experiences with Travellers. Ultimately, what’s important to me is my love for the country which opened its arms to me: Luxembourg.
In 2015, you founded your own Luxembourg-based production company, Wady Films. You’ve also said that you want to concentrate on socially oriented projects and give a voice to under-represented characters in contemporary film. Could you talk to us a bit about this?
The aim of Wady Films is to produce films of all genres by way of stories and filmmakers both hailing from countries which aren’t often represented in modern-day film. As products of immigration, my associates and I look for subjects which affect us and which we can identify with. That’s why we try to maintain quite a clear editorial line which consists of producing works which can resonate with international audiences and are more easily exported. For example, we just produced My Grandpa is an Alien [+see also:
film profile], a fantasy film mostly set up in association with Eastern countries, which is something of a first for Luxembourg. Another example is a documentary directed by a Mauritian filmmaker revolving around the ethnic group known as the Chagossians.
What projects do you have in the pipeline? How important are co-productions, in your opinion, especially when it comes to Francophone films?
As it stands, I’m right in the middle of writing my new feature film Hooped with my Canadian co-writer Dennis Foon, and the Film Fund Luxembourg has just awarded me a writing grant for this project. It will be a co-production between Luxembourg, Canada and Egypt. My aim is to make a three-part trilogy exploring my experiences as an Egyptian growing up in Luxembourg. Sawah told the tale of how I arrived in the Grand Duchy and my passion for music. Hooped will be the story of a young man and product of immigration chasing the American dream. And to close the trilogy, I want to tell the tale that’s closest to my heart… But you’ll have to wait a little bit longer to find out any more. As for co-productions, they’re crucial in my mind, especially on the European and/or Francophone level. In Luxembourg, we’re very lucky in that we can count on the support of the Film Fund, but obviously collaborating with foreign countries opens up a plethora of new perspectives.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.