Q&A with Sofia Alaoui, dir. Qu’importe si les bêtes meurent [So What if the Goats Die] - Clermont 2020
Friday 14 February 2020, by
In the heights of the Atlas mountains, Abdellah, a young shepherd, and his father are snowed in. As their animals start to starve, Abdellah goes in search of supplies in a village more than a day’s walk away. With his mule, he arrives in the village and discovers that it has been deserted because of a curious event that has left all the believers baffled.
The product of a truly incredible mix of genres, this short is a mesmerising oddity shot amongst the stunning, other-worldly landscape of the Atlas mountains in what were apparently fairly difficult conditions. Kudos to Sofia Alaoui for pulling it off and giving us well-crafted short that leaves us wanting more.
More on the film...
Why did you choose this title?
The title of the film was obvious to me even before writing the screenplay, when I started becoming interested in the Universe and extraterrestrials. I found that there was something in these subjects that went beyond questions about material things, everyday things with which we can be confronted. The “goats” in the title refers to something coming from the earth and I think that the title sparks a thrust towards something else. That’s sort of the initial intention, to look elsewhere…
What is happening in the sky? Or are we supposed to guess what’s happening?
I prefer not to say! That’s really the question my character is asking himself and that will shock him when he discovers what it is. What’s going on in the sky is an excuse to confront my character (and others, of course) with the discovery a new, unknown world which seems frightening at first because it challenges an entire way of thinking.
What prompted you to tell this story?
I grew up in Morocco, a country with strong dogmas (and not just in the religious realm.) It’s difficult to doubt, to question a belief shared by a group. The question of extraterrestrial life has always fascinated me because it enables us to question our certainties and absolute truths. Would the proven existence of extraterrestrials change our way of believing? From the onset I wanted to tell a story that doesn’t challenge these questions harshly. I like cinema that flirts with different genres, moving between documentary and fiction, between poetry and brutality in the way its staged. There was also the desire to tell a story set in an isolated village in the Atlas (the Moroccan mountain range.) I find that these desert decors portray many things. In the beginning, there was indeed, the convergence of several wishes, both aesthetic and fundamental which made me say “Bingo, I’ve got a film.”
How did the shooting of the film go?
The filming went very well on several points: artistic agreement with my chief operator, Noé Bach, so that we made a good team; I had a super script, a fantastic assistant director, and, working with non-professional actors was an immense pleasure. I tested a way to work and to direct the actors on this project. They had never read the scenario. Before shooting, I told them what was going to happen and take place in the scene, in what emotional state the characters were in. It was very interesting for me. In fact, Fouad, the main character, admitted to me that every night he would write down the scenes that we had shot in a notebook in order to have the scenario of the film, which of course he didn’t have. One morning he came to see me and said: “Frankly, it looks like an awesome film, I can’t wait to know the ending.” Obviously, the end of the film was shot the last day. It was somewhat of a surprise for the actors. But other than that, I have to admit that filming was a real battle given that we were deep in the Atlas: we worked crazy hours and quite honestly, I have to say , it’s complicated to make an ambitious short film in Morocco. There aren’t many professional short films in Morocco. People are used to making big American films so right away your little short, no one cares much, and people, when they see a camera, they think you have money and want you to dish it out. Even blocking off streets was hell! Especially because I wanted an empty village, deserted (whereas the town was really full of life.) When I look at certain shots again, I think about all we went through to get them, it’s really somewhat of a miracle. You have to imagine that there were sometimes something like, I don’t know, a hundred people behind us looking at the set as if it were a stage in a theatre. So, for the sound, you can imagine that we had to redo everything in post-production!
What are your next projects?
I’m working on my first feature-length film that I developed during my year in the Femis Screenwriting Workshop and in parallel I developed my first series with Barney Production. These are two Moroccan projects and that’s quite exciting!
Would you say that the short film format has given you any particular freedom?
I directed several shorts and videos and it’s true that I have the impression that that helped me to get to know myself by trying to experiment with different things. My approach to directing actors, to staging, to the other technicians on the set has matured through these different projects. I feel I’m ready to move on to a longer format!