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BLACK NIGHTS 2018 Competition

Partho Sen-Gupta • Director of Slam

“We live in a state of violence”


- Cineuropa met up with Indian-born director Partho Sen-Gupta to discuss his new film, Slam, after its world premiere in competition at Tallinn

Partho Sen-Gupta  • Director of Slam

Partho Sen-Gupta’s Slam [+see also:
film review
interview: Partho Sen-Gupta
film profile
 is screening in the Official Selection of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. In the movie, when his activist sister of Palestinian origins disappears after a slam poetry reading, the unassuming Tarik (Adam Bakri) suddenly has to face the false allegations, media storm and racist remarks he has been running away from his entire life in Australia. As he tries to figure out who she really was, he starts to question his own choices as well. We sat down with the director to find out more about the film. 

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Cineuropa: In Slam, you concentrate on second-generation immigrants, who don’t really feel like outsiders, yet are often treated as such.
Partho Sen-Gupta:
 That first generation usually escapes some conflict – they are just happy to make it out of there alive. The next one is born in a different space and grows up absorbing its values. They want to assimilate because that’s what they are told to do, and their parents are embarrassed about their accents. Still, people sometimes ask them where they are from. It hurts, because they have lived there all their lives.

Is that why they sometimes decide to go back?
They feel rejected, and then they go back and realise that they don’t belong there either. They don’t belong anywhere – they are in this state of limbo. All of these growing nationalist movements reject them, although ten years ago, nobody would have said anything like that. Now they do, because people like Trump have made it acceptable. And they get elected.

I am an immigrant myself – I moved to France in the 1990s. I spoke the language and got a scholarship to study at La Fémis, but despite living there for years, people would always ask me: “So, are you visiting?” It makes you feel like you are not valued. I wanted to make a film about that state of being without necessarily accusing people – it’s more of an analysis. Tarik came to Australia as a child, and then he became Ricky. He tries to live a “white” life, and one day, his sister, who doesn’t approve of his lifestyle and who is provocative politically – putting a stop to this belief that women wearing hijabs don’t have a voice – just vanishes. Her disappearance forces him to go back to the identity he left behind.

Throughout the film, we hear people talking about not wanting “these people” in their country; we see them reading about “monsters” in the papers. Is this something you recognise?
In Australia, that’s how it is. Politicians are constantly talking about it on the radio, and newspapers provoke people with their headlines. Now, when I go to a coffee shop, I just push them aside. This is the country controlled by the Murdoch empire, built to politicise and imprison the mind. We are brainwashed into believing we live in a democratic society, and sure, you will find five brands of toilet paper in the supermarket. But that’s not real freedom. That’s why I created this other character, Joanne [played by Rachael Blake], who is a white Australian coming from the working class. When her son dies in Afghanistan, she realises that she has been living some idea she has never questioned before, just like Tarik.

It’s surprising that you decided to spend so much time with her.
I wanted to create a link between these two worlds. After all, we are not that different. They only meet twice: when he goes to the police station to file a report, and then again at the end. They are connected because the basis of the film is violence – it’s just so ingrained in our society. We live in a state of violence. These characters want to come out of it or at least question it, because it all starts from a small child being told she is a “terrorist” by one of her friends.

For me, this film is a representation of Australia you have never seen before. It was complicated to make because I have only been here for six years. Some people think it’s great that I want to talk about things nobody else would dare to, but others go: “How dare you accuse us?” A few months ago, a female stand-up comedian [Eurydice Dixon] was walking home after her performance, and the next morning, they found her dead body. She died because she dared to speak up – it’s all about taking power away from people. There is this image of Australia being all about beaches and surfing, but it’s an extremely violent society built on the genocide of the Aboriginal people. Everybody seems very nice, but there is a lot of darkness beneath. That’s why I show this party scene at the beginning. They are very nice, and everything is great, but all it takes is one moment, and their faces change, as if Ricky were the one to blame. So he goes: “I have become just like you; why are you looking at me?” It’s like saying that all white people are responsible for what Breivik did. It’s not the case!

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