Sometimes, the cinema illuminates social projects. It has been happening in recent years and, when that true link between the creators and the neighborhood takes shape, alchemy is unique. And durable. There are unforgettable expressions that are born from intimate and collective places that would not have been produced in the industrial sphere of entertainment without the propulsion of the neighborhood itself. One of them was the movie. The Miserables (2019, Cannes Jury Prize), by the talented Ladj Ly, who starts from his own experience as a stigmatized boy (Muslim and son of Malian immigrants) on the outskirts of Paris.
It is precisely in his neighborhood -Montfermeil-, where Ladj Ly founded and directs the Kourtrajmé school, active since 2018 and which already has branches in Marseille (France) and Dakar (Senegal). Its principles are clear: offer free audiovisual training (artistic and technical) to people of all ages, give them a space of trust so that they believe in themselves and allow them to create a professional network to launch themselves into the storytelling profession. And, while the proposals to open new antennas in Africa go ahead, this week it is the Spanish one, the one in Vallecas -in the south of Madrid-, which is launched. Its director is rapper, producer and filmmaker BêO Antarez, also a Parisian, and son of the African diaspora (in this case, born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Ladj Ly founded and directs the Kourtrajmé school, active since 2018 in his neighborhood, Montfermeil (Paris, France), and of which it already has branches in Marseille (France) and Dakar (Senegal). The third will open this Monday in Vallecas (Madrid)
“There are no weeds or bad men, only bad cultivators”, wrote Victor Hugo in The Miserables, in 1862, and that phrase prompted Ladj Ly to turn artistically against the apparent No Exit and the repression that adolescents and young people suffer in the outskirts of a European capital. And give them knowledge and tools that are often considered elitist. His pedagogical idea was so inspiring that other cultivators were born. BêO Antarez has become one of them: he arrived in Madrid in 2018, from the northern outskirts of Paris; There he did rap, he also studied cinema and, already with the project of a co-production with Spain of a musical film, he contacted the production company associated with the Kourtrajmé school. From those conversations, in 2019, the idea of opening a Madrid office arose.
“What do you need?”, he says Amad Ly, right-hand man of the director of The Miserables. “Credibility and support,” Antarez replied. From Paris they agreed and upped the ante: “Well, you have to have a godmother or a godfather and a workplace.” Today, finally, BêO Antarez welcomes the 24 students of what will be the first class of the Kourtrajmé school in the town of Vallecas, in My recreation site, a youth center managed by the Madrid City Council. And the godmother of the school is the Spanish actress of Moroccan descent Mina El Hammami (whom she is known for her participation in Eliteamong other series of recent years).
This is how they arrive this coming Monday, January 31, 2022, with the presentation and inauguration act of the school year that Ladj Ly himself will attend. Classes begin and the achievement is immense for Antarez, after three years of sweep Y row almost alone in the city of Madrid, in search of disinterested partners to provide theoretical and practical training –and, most importantly, free of charge– to young people with few resources who come with that “energy of banlieue” (suburb) which is the mark of the mother school of Montfermeil.
From next Monday, 24 young people, 12 girls and 12 boys selected from 200 candidates, will start working in Vallecas, half of them, on script; the other, in progress. Of the 24 ideas that they bring, there will be two that they will develop together (in six-hour days) to arrive at the end of June with the pilot of a TV series and with the purpose of going out to sell it. In June, the call will also be made to start, in September, the next course, aimed at people who, otherwise, would not be able to access film training. The school’s budget is still very limited and, in fact, most of the teaching staff will work ad honoremas clarified by its director.
The energy of the periphery
Everything is underway, so, on a bright Vallecan morning at the end of January, BêO Antarez can finally take a moment to explain his impressions of his new home, what he brings from his life as a French-Congolese as baggage , the profile of teaching at the headquarters of Kourtrajme of Vallecas, what is expected of the students of the school and even tell us about their cinematographic preferences. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) by Jacques Denis is my favorite film; I am also inspired by Spike Lee’s cinema”.
Regarding the path to establish the school, Antarez assures that he felt that this was “a mission” that corresponded to him, without even thinking that he would be the director: “The first problem I encountered in Spain was that among the artists there seemed to be no the practice of getting involved in social projects. In France, one summons someone for a solidarity work in the cinema and it is not difficult for them to say yes, without asking for money”.
12 girls and 12 boys, out of 200 candidates, will work on two pilot episodes of a TV series with the purpose of going out to sell (it) at the end of June
With the premises in the town of Vallecas placed at his disposal, however, everything became simpler. “We were already situated, we existed somewhere,” says the director. “I am very spiritual, so nothing seems vain to me, not even the time that we had to wait. I had a hope that never faded, and when I received the message from My recreation site, I realized that I had met good people. In Vallecas there is an energy like at home, with a lot of immigration, a lot of mixing. This was not the result of chance, ”he maintains.
The fact is that this school is not like the others, hence the director’s satisfaction at settling in this Madrid neighborhood whose reputation he was previously unaware of: “This school has the value of the ingenuity of the street, where there is not only crime, but also spirituality, and that mixture of Christian and Muslim or Jewish beliefs. When there is that mutual help, one goes far and ends up being very strong”. Indeed, BêO Antarez says that, during the brief visit by the director Ladj Ly to Madrid, he was very happy with this opening and with the neighborhood, and joked with the rusty metal facade of My Recreation Sitebecause it reminded him of the material from which the exterior walls of the Montfermeil police stations are made, often exposed to fire by the most rabid neighbors.
With a ‘k’ and the language of the suburb
Regarding the name of the school, it should be clarified that Kourtrajmé derives from the word ‘short film’, in French (and with the same ‘k’ with which it is usually read Vallekas), only the second part (footage) is backwards (brought me), as spoken on the streets of the suburbs, in that particular slang that reverses the order of the letters. “We didn’t want to change the name of the school and, obviously, it doesn’t matter how they pronounce it in Spain: if they say it with many J’s, that is, precisely, integration. Neither can we say the Spanish jacks well. In France, we get used to using Arabic words, or Hebrew, or English. Or we speak the other way around. We come from neighborhoods with an identity,” adds Antarez.
The director, a lover of hip hop in Spanish, he comments that he watches the current Spanish series carefully, because this will be the line of work of the Vallecas school, and hence the pedagogical responsibility is in the hands of Manuel Requeña, a man from the Spanish audiovisual industry. They are also in talks with the Netflix platform, to get support in the form of master classes from their professionals and for some co-production. “Here on the street there are people of all nationalities, but they are not yet on the screens. There is a process to do. In France, on the other hand, although there is a lot of discrimination, you can already see the diversity on the screen. Here, I have an actress friend, Spanish, but with dark skin, and she has confessed to me that her agency whitens her skin in her photos. Things will evolve, for sure, but this is going to take time”, she predicts.
From the cinema, our responsibility is to offer another image, to correct this distortion between the institutional and the African diaspora
BêO Antarez, rapper and director of the ‘Kourtrajmé’ school in Vallecas
And although it is precisely in Spain where he feels closest to his continent of origin, something that he confirms when he sees the African coast from Tarifa, he thinks that those links that exist historically must be cultivated: “We have to see in perspective. In France, I am a black, but in Spain I am a French. When I go to Lavapiés, Africans look at me in a different way, because they feel that they do not exist in the sight of Spaniards. From the cinema, our responsibility is to offer another image, to correct this distortion between the institutional and the African diaspora”.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.