In 2013, former Chadian dictator Hissein Habré’s arrest in Senegal marked the end of a long combat for the survivors of his regime.
Accompanied by the Chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Hissein Habré Regime, Mahamat Saleh Haroun goes to meet those who survived this tragedy and who still bear the scars of the horror in their flesh and in their souls.
Through their courage and determination, the victims accomplish an unprecedented feat in the history of Africa: that of bringing a Head of State to trial.
- Mathieu Giombini
- Christine Benoit
- Julien Cloquet
- Wasis Diop
I had been working on the subject for several years. I was in contact with Ms Jacqueline Moudeïna, the victims’ lawyer. I wanted to recount their struggle; to recount this chapter of Chadian history, which is mine too, although still little known. It was urgent to speak about these horrors. Hissein Habré’s arrest on 30 June, 2013, in Dakar accelerated everything. I wanted to hear to the words of those who live through this tragedy, who still bear the scars, who suffered in their flesh, in their blood. These survivors were often innocent; they were arrested for no reason, the expiatory victims of a bloodthirsty regime… I also undertook this work to question the tragic destiny inflicted on some people. Is it possible to still live together after such monstrosities? Can survivors still find a place for forgiveness in their hearts? What did they want from this trial?
Most of the interviews are conducted by Clément Abaïfouta, Chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Hissein Habré Regime. He is the main character. In the film, he is a kind of alter ego, the person I hand over to and who, in this capacity, introduces us to the survivors. My idea was to avoid carrying out classical interviews, creating the opportunity for Clément Abaïfouta to talk to the various protagonists instead. To begin with, I chose to film the victims very frontally, facing the camera. They recount what they went through, as if directly addressing the spectator. Then, I let Clément talk to each of them, completely freely, as if just having an ordinary chat. My concern was to remain faithfully anchored in the present, giving the spectator the necessary keys to understand the system created by the Habré regime.
There were several narrative approaches possible in telling this story. But during editing, I decided to focus uniquely on the victims’ words. For they are stronger, more powerful, more moving too. This is the experience they went through. I structured the film like a fiction. They are characters with an objective to fulfil. It’s this movement towards a goal that determines the filmic structure.
The trial was only possible thanks to the tenacity of the victims and their lawyers. A fifteen-year legal battle during which they refused to give up. The stalling tactics of the Senegalese authorities, who long protected Hissein Habré, slowed the judicial process. If the trial was finally held, it’s thanks to the decision of the International Court of Justice, which forced Senegal to hold it. Sadly, in the meantime, many victims have died. The latest is an old man, Adimatcho Djamaï, present in the film. As a result of the tortures he suffered in prison, Mr Adimatcho was forced to spend the rest of his life lying on his back. He passed away the day before he was due to testify in court. From the start, I wasn’t interested in the trial. Very rapidly, it was clear to me that I had to speak about Habré without showing him. Moreover, Hissein Habré refused to speak throughout the whole trial. What I wanted was the voice of those who had been through hell and who were demanding justice. I wanted to recount these ordinary folks’ combat and the desire for justice. In the end, I managed to talk about Hissein Habré without embodying him, with the exception of the day the trial opened, when, in a complete rage, he contested the legitimacy of the court and obtained the suspension of the trial. At the end of this story, my characters end up winning their struggle. They pass from the status of victim to that of hero for having managed to bring a former African Head of State before a court of law. That is historic.
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Haroun is helping his country to finally mourn its own tragedy, while his warm and understanding approach offers up what feels like a path toward appeasement.
A powerful testimony.
Haroun paints a painfully clear picture of the savagery inflicted on perfectly innocent people
Born in Beche, Chad in 1960. Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN studied film in Paris and then journalism in Bordeaux. He worked for several years as a journalist before returning to filming. In 1994, he directed his first short film Maral Tanie. Five years later he signed his first feature film Bye Bye Africa which won 2 prizes at Venice Film Festival, including that of Best First Film. His second film, OUR FATHER, was selected at the Directors’ Fortnight in 2002. Four years later, he was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival for DRY SEASON, while the MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) in New York devoted a retrospective exhibition to his work. In 2010, his fourth feature film, A SCREAMING MAN, received the Jury Prize in Cannes. That same year, he also received the prestigious Robert Bresson Award at the Venice Film Festival, as well as the Humanity Prize at the 34th Mostra in São Paolo, Brazil. In 2016, he presented his documentary HISSEIN HABRE, A CHADIAN TRAGEDY in a special screening at Cannes IFF.