September 15, 2016

Daouda Coulibaly, DIRECTOR OF WÙlU, PREMIERED IN Toronto

Most of the expenses benefited local professionals

Drug traffic in Mali is at the heart of this thriller, Wùlu, supported by ACPCultures+ and presented in Toronto in competition


ACPCultures+: What inspired you to take on this subject matter?

Daouda Coulibaly: I read a press article which talked about drug trafficking in West Africa, saying that it was a phenomenon that was currently developing, having started around the beginning of the 2000s. When I learnt that there was so much trafficking, I had quite a gloomy outlook. In other words, I was telling myself that war was about to break out. I drew parallels with Mexico, where the cartels took over the regular army, etc. So I told myself that it was going to be terrible and that it was something that needed to be spoken about. I saw myself as a whistle-blower, thinking that if we spoke about it, maybe we could avert the crisis that was threatening us. That’s when I started to write - at the beginning of 2012. Almost two months later, we had our crisis - the coup d’état in Mali - and very quickly, when the military junta took power, they denounced the attitude of certain Malian army generals with regard to drug trafficking. From that moment, rather than an ‘anticipatory’ film, I told myself that this was to be a film showing how we had found ourselves in this situation.

ACPCultures+: In fact we know, and unfortunately current affairs have confirmed, that drug trafficking is largely responsible for the masses of money funding terrorists?

 Daouda Coulibaly: In any case we decided to focus on this idea when explaining the problem. It’s not the only factor, but of course we can show the crisis from the perspective of the Tuareg rebellion, the economic context, the context of impoverishment, etc. but I decided that I wanted to represent the crisis through developing the theme of drug trafficking in West Africa. It’s something that has also contributed to the financial resources of traffickers, who have then used this income, amongst other sources, to buy weapons. So I think that there is indeed a very strong link between drug trafficking and the crisis situation that spread across Mali.

ACPCultures+: In the film itself, there are some moments where the editing is very close up, very bumpy. We almost find ourselves in a comedy. We let this serious and tense moment represented by drug trafficking pass by. Did you want to have a lighter side in contrast to the tragic reality of the situation?

Daouda Coulibaly: For me it wasn’t lighter, it was more personal. In other words, this film isn’t a socio-political protest. Above all, it’s the story of somebody young, the journey of a youth who wants to get himself out of this insecurity and who uses all of the means available to him. So maybe what you perceived as lightness, for me is more intimate. In other words, we’re close to him, he’s not always trafficking. He’s also asking questions, seeing his friends, having discussions with his sister, protecting himself, imagining the future. At times, this personal aspect leaves aside the purely political element of the film because of the interest in the character, his doubts and his concerns.

ACPCultures+: Why did you eventually choose to name the film “Wùlu,” the first title being “Ladji Nyé?”

Daouda Coulibaly: Because Wùlu means “dog” in Bambara. (Editors note: the most common language in Mali). In one of the last rites of passage, named N’tomo, Wùlu is the last level to sort of validate the initiation.It’s to teach you how to find your place in society. For me, it’s a bit like Ladji’s experience throughout the film, he’s looking for his place in society. He looked for it as an apprentice, he hoped to become a driver, but it didn’t work out how he wanted it to, so that’s how he turns to organised crime, to find his identity in this society which is changing and moving away from traditional values. Of course, Wùlu also refers to a man without morals. That’s how we use the term when we talk about someone being dog-like today, in a pejorative manner, it means somebody that doesn’t retreat from anything. This aspect of his personality is also shown in the film. So that goes back to both the rite of initiation and the pejorative term for somebody without morals.

ACPCultures+: I wanted to ask your opinion, as our ACPCultures+ programme focuses on the economic impact of the film and also the human side, with the training of technicians and other professionals on site - what do you think of these two aspects? Did you form and work with a local team and will you continue to work together on other projects?

Daouda Coulibaly: One thing that is for sure is that for a lot of people working on Wùlu, it was their first time. There are lots of young people who got their first experience working on such a wide-reaching project. Now that they have a foot in the door, they are able to renew this kind of experience. The shoot lasted seven weeks and during those seven weeks, they were able to discover something totally new. Those who already had a little experience were able to consolidate it. It is something that I think depends heavily on the experience of the individual. Regarding the economic aspect, the shooting took place between Mali and Senegal, and most of the expenses that have been incurred on the site were in favour of local professionals. So it was a project that actually had economic benefits and benefits in terms of training for local staff.

ACPCultures+: Yes, it’s very important for us to have a structure to the industry and staff ready to work on other films or international productions. Did you have any unpleasant surprises?

Daouda Coulibaly : Unpleasant surprises, yes, there are always a few while filming. The first was that a lot more of the filming should have taken place in Mali, but we weren’t able to and were forced to relocate most of the interior scenes to Senegal. We can’t control the unexpected. Of course there were a lot of surprises unique to each location. Our job is to adapt and manage stress when problems arise. I can also say that although the film wasn’t solely financed through ACPCultures+ programme, the film wouldn’t have occurred without it. This funding was a key amount which allowed us to start production.

ACPCultures+: This is what many producers tell us, because on one hand it creates credibility for the film, and secondly it helps attract other funding. With the experience that you gained from the film, are there any mistakes you now know not to make, or anything that you would have done differently in hindsight?

Daouda Coulibaly : I can't think of things that we could have done differently. I think that every time we had difficulties, they weren’t within our control and we were able to manage the situation to complete the film. I don’t see where we could have done more. If you were talking about staging, maybe there I have two or three things I would change if I had the chance. Overall, in terms of how we managed the making of this film, I do not see what we could have done differently.

ACPCultures+: Are you expecting anything in Toronto? What’s your view on Toronto?

Daouda Coulibaly: The international press and international buyers are in Toronto. It’s an opportunity for us to test the film internationally and to see how the market reacts. If the market are interested in a film from this region in the modern world, which is contemporary and stays away from clichés as much as possible.

ACPCultures+: A question that is a bit more general on the financing of African films. Sometimes films are produced and it’s difficult to export them, to show them elsewhere and to distribute them in Europe. Do you think this is something that could be done, or is it a case of mission impossible?

Daouda Coulibaly : I think all film industries, before export, are generally based on a domestic market. The particularity of African cinema is that there is no domestic market on which it can rely. That is to say, as a Malian filmmaker, I can’t release my film first in Mali, see that it’s going to be profitable there before considering selling it to neighbouring countries, Europe, America etc. This is a big problem for anyone who wants to make films in Africa - we have to convince the international markets. Very few films manage to do this and become profitable internationally, on the external market. Apart from the United States, there are very few film industries which export very well and are sold worldwide. We, as African filmmakers, are doomed to not matching the performance of American studios, because we can’t rely on a domestic market. The challenge is either to have movies that are as good and as exportable as American movies, or to develop a domestic market that will allow us to make a profit and pay off certain costs before tackling the international market.

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