Claude Haffner: “Black Here, White There” | “Footprints of My Other”
African Women in Cinema Blog
Beti Ellerson, Director/Directrice
Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema
Interview with Claude Haffner and translation from French by Beti Ellerson, March 2012.
An interview with Franco-Congolese filmmaker Claude Haffner by Beti Ellerson regarding her documentary film, Footprints of My Other (2012)
Beti Ellerson: Claude, a moving autobiographical story about your place “in between”—black and white as a racial signifier, Africa and Europe—their contrasting beliefs and customs, class, status and gender—what you represent as an Alsatian and its contradictions as a Congolese. I also discern your need to redefine yourself in relationship to your father and mother—a liberation, as you call it, and finally as an expectant mother, your research on the formation of identity and how you will transmit your own multiple identity to your child with the hopes that she will be able to find, as you have between black and white, her own colour. Some reflections?
Claude Haffner: Initially, I wanted to make a film that focused solely on the diamond operations and the turmoil that I discovered the first time I went to the Congo. I saw the poverty in which my mother’s family lived, and I wanted to talk about this heartbreaking reality in a different manner than that presented by the media, that is to say without the tendency to dwell on the sordid side of life, which I hate. I looked for a way to educate and at the same time not bore the viewer, but also that he or she may be able to identify with the story, whether the person is black, white or any other colour of the rainbow. I knew that to bring it to the screen, I had to enter into the story. But I did not at all imagine that I would talk about myself, my history, my bi-raciality.
Then I contacted the South African producer/director Ramadan Suleman to propose the project. Ramadan read the draft and immediately called me back to say that he liked the idea a lot and he was prepared to produce the film, however he thought that I had to be more involved in it since it was my family, my country, my feelings; that this aspect should be more pronounced. So I added my individual history to the story.
But what is wonderful about the documentary is that no matter how much one may write and rewrite the script, at the end it is the characters and the scenes that are shot that will decide the final product. The issue of culture, of being mixed-race, the place between father and mother, the transmission of identity to the child, none of these themes were written. They emerged during the filming. I had not planned to talk about skin colour with my cousins for example. It’s what is called the “magic of the documentary.” At least that’s the way I love films and how I would like to make them. Not knowing everything in advance about how the film will look, not forcing situations in order to relate the story, but rather leaving room for unanticipated situations. The film should redefine itself as the shooting unfolds in the same way that the filmmaker redefines herself in relation to her initial idea and to her subject. This is evident in the fact that in 2004 I could not foresee that I would be expecting a child after having filmed in the Congo, and that I would actually include myself, while pregnant, during the scenes in Alsace. Somehow, the film helped me to define my identity and my place between Europe and Africa and to become aware of the richness that I possess to have come from a double culture or perhaps I should say, multiple…
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