Mahamat Saleh Haroun, portrait of a master storyteller

Filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun, a regular at the Croisette, is presenting this year “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds,” a social drama vying for the Palme d’Or. Portrait of a master storyteller who has become one of the greatest figures of African cinema. 


The 74th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, which kicked off on July 6, this year finds back Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun; a familiar face at the festival, who returns for the third time in competition with his new film “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds”. The filmmaker, who was member of the 2011 jury chaired by American actor Robert De Niro, presented his feature film “Grigris” in 2013 and was awarded the 2010 Jury Prize for A Screaming Man, four years after winning the Venice prize for Daratt, (Dry Season).

Mahamat Saleh Haroun’s love for cinema was triggered by the first film he saw at the age of 8, he said. Already, it was the camera that seduced him. From his childhood marked by the civil war that broke out in his country – Chad – and forced him into exile – in Cameroon, then in France where he still lives – he kept this thirst to tell the story of the world around him. 

From journalism to filmmaking

After studying cinema in Paris at the Conservatoire libre du cinema français and journalism at the IUT of Bordeaux in 1986, he worked for several regional daily newspapers and then for a local radio station. In 1994, he moved behind the camera, with certain success. His first short film, “Maral Tanié,” which denounces arranged marriages, was critically acclaimed and won an award at the “Vues d’Afrique” Festival. Five years later, he directed his first feature film, “Bye Bye Africa”, a reflexive docu-drama portraying the faltering state of the Chadian film industry that earned him the Best First Film award at the Venice Festival.

His next two films, “Abouna” in 2003 and “Daratt” in 2006, cemented his place among the great names of auteur cinema. Presented at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, the first tells the story of two children who go in search of a father who has suddenly left his wife and two sons, while the second describes an attempt at revenge in a context of civil war. A profound story whose humanistic reflection once again moved the audience: Daratt was awarded the Grand Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2009. Subsequently, he returned to the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival with the films “A Screaming Man” (in 2010) and “Grigris “(in 2013), a hymn to youth that won the Vulcan Award for Best Cinematography.

“It has been a while since I wanted to portray Chadian women as I know them…”

With “Lingui”, he tells the story of Amina, a single mother of a pregnant teen, Maria, who must face the disapproval of society in a country where social and religious factors have a decisive influence.  

Lingui is “a term that implies solidarity, mutual aid, and keeping each other afloat,” explains Mahamat Saleh Haroun. I can only exist because the other exists. Basically, it is an altruistic philosophy. This word sums up the resilience of societies in the face of catastrophic ordeals. “For a while I wanted to portray Chadian women as I know them, he added. They are single women, widows or divorced, who raise children alone. Often badly seen by society, they manage to get by. I knew one of these women, who found herself alone with her children after the death of her husband. To earn a living, she started collecting plastic bags to make ropes and sell them. I wanted to capture the lives of these women who are somewhat marginalized, but who do not see themselves as victims. They are the heroines of everyday life…”.  

Unanimously acclaimed by the audience during its official presentation at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes, Lingui is, this year, one of two African films, alongside “Casablanca Beats” by Moroccan Nabil Ayouch, standing a chance of winning the Palme d’Or. A very discreet African presence amongst the global cinema, which reminds us, if need be, of the exceptional journey of the Chadian child of Abeché, since that fateful day when he fell in love with cinema.

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