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José-Luis Peñafuerte, Chergui Kharroubi • Directors

"We had a responsibility as Belgian filmmakers, we needed to make a film"


- Interview with Belgian filmmakers José-Luis Peñafuerte and Chergui Kharroubi, whose documentary Molenbeek, génération radicale ? is screening at the 16th Mediterranean Film Festival in Brussels

José-Luis Peñafuerte, Chergui Kharroubi • Directors
(© Cinergie)

One year on from the Paris attacks, two Belgian directors, Chergui Kharroubi and José-Luis Peñafuerte, give a voice to the residents of Molenbeek, this municipality in Brussels so disparaged by the world’s media, in Molenbeek, génération radicale ? [+see also:
interview: José-Luis Peñafuerte, Cherg…
film profile
] caught up with them at the 16th Mediterranean Film Festival in Brussels.

Cinergie: Where did the idea for the film come from?
José-Luis Peñafuerte: Seeing the media invasion of Molenbeek after the attacks in Paris on 13 November, we realised we had to do something. We had a responsibility as Belgian filmmakers, we had to make a film.
Chergui Kharroubi: The project was born from wounds inflicted by this media swarm, misinformation. We both work at RTBF (the public broadcaster of the French Community of Belgium) and whilst chatting in the corridors, we decided to make this film, to get another image of this place out there.
J.-L. P.: We waited for the caravan of journalists to leave the neighbourhood, for the party to end, and in January 2016, when the residents of Molenbeek could finally get back to their everyday lives, we went, in turn, to meet them. One of the first encounters we had was with actor Ben Hamidou, who told us how as a sociocultural stakeholder and coordinator for the media, one big French television broadcaster had asked him if he knew any terrorists! He played along to demonstrate the absurdity of the situation. He replied that he didn’t know any, but that yes, he knew someone who was about to leave for Turkey, pointing at a nearby snack vendor who was about to go. The journalists pounced on him, trying to find out more about how he was going to get there. But as it turned out, he was going there on holiday with his wife!

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Although your approach was completely unusual, your quest for information is legitimate. We all want to understand why Molenbeek.
C. K.: We can’t report on a situation when we come from the other side of the world. We wanted to take our time, talk to people before we started filming.
J.-L. P.: We wanted to free these voices and show a more nuanced reality. It’s clear that there are problems, people who have been neglected by the public authorities; unemployment, kids dropping out of school, etc. But we wanted to understand what is moving young people to commit these kind of acts. We wanted to understand what had gone wrong when there was an extremely active community and cultural network. It took us time to get close to the area. And we can’t forget the wound inflicted on Molenbeek by this media circus either. Initially, it was a bit tricky to poke around, as they associated us with this image of dishonesty; it took time for us to gain their trust.
C. K.: Nonetheless, we still had problems. One Flemish journalist made a documentary series on Molenbeek, playing on the sensationalism, and while we were shooting, the film was broadcast on TV and it really knocked us back.

But you were able to establish relationships based on trust with some people.
C. K.: There were some key moments when people really spoke freely: when Salah Abdeslam was arrested and after the attacks on 22 March in Brussels.
J.-L. P.: Initially, the characters in the film defended themselves without really getting to the heart of the problem. But after the attacks, they felt the need to talk. They wanted to break the silence, this omerta that had settled over the neighbourhood.
C. K.: After the attacks, when everyone realised that that could happen to them and their loved ones, there was a radical change in the relationship with the area.
J.-L.P.: We’re in a state of emergency, it’s hard for young people above all after all the media bashing of the neighbourhood. Today, a young person who has finished their studies doesn’t stand a chance of finding a job if they come from Molenbeek. How are young people supposed to rebuild their lives? That’s the question that’s answered in the film.

This film has been shown on television. What was the fallout after it was shown?
 One of the merits of the film is that it triggered somewhat widespread debate in schools and cultural centres. That was one of our aims: to trigger debate on the municipality of Molenbeek.
J.-L.P.: At an institutional level, the film sent a shockwave out on delicate subjects such as employment. We can’t carry on taking about these figures as if they’re normal. The film poses the question of societal debate. What kind of society do we want to create for a stable generation? It’s a situation that we see in a number of neighbourhoods, municipalities and towns in Belgium. It’s a question of our future as a society. 

Read the complete interview here.

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(Translated from French)

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