Aïssa Maïga: “Walking on water is not an expert film”

In her very successful first feature film for the big screen, Aïssa Maïga explores the collateral damage of global warming in a village in Niger. Meet.

What prompted you to dedicate your first feature film for the big screen to the consequences of global warming in Africa?

Aïssa Maïga : A phone call from producer Yves Darandeau! Because it was Yves Lagache who had the original idea of Walk on water and had made the first spotting before having to leave the project. Yves then suggested that I take over the project and bring it to completion.

Did you immediately respond positively?

I was then immersed with Isabelle Siméoni in Black looks that we produced for Canal +. And above all, it is a subject on which I did not feel I had any particular expertise. So my first impulse was to decline. But I did not succeed! (laughs) Because there was the possibility of exploring this subject in the heart of the Sahel, this corner of the world where I come from and where I spent so many memorable moments. This was my front door

Once that yes is given, how do you build the backbone of the film?

I rely first of all on Guy Lagache’s tremendous preparatory work and in particular his discussions with Ariane Kirtley, the head of the NGO Amman Imman, very active in this corner of the world to drill and allow villages to come back to life. thanks to the return of the water. So I am going in my turn to meet him to ask him all the questions I have in mind. And these river talks will be decisive. Ariane details in particular the concrete consequences of the lack of water – worsening year after year – for the families who live in this region. And we’re gonna build this spine together

Why did you choose to put your camera in the village of Tatiste in Niger?

Here again, I relied on the location work of Guy Lagache. I had carte blanche to go wherever I wanted in West Africa. But I chose this village because it was located in Niger, so close to northern Mali where I come from and because it was Fulani like my grandmother. Thanks to Guy, I was able to immediately have access to photos, to the reports of the testimonies he had gathered while going there. And little by little I then refine what I want to tell with Walk on water : village life and how, because of climate change, children find themselves propelled into adult responsibilities in the absence of their parents, who have gone far away to provide for their families. I wanted this to be the key to the film because I felt it would allow an identification process.

How is your first trip there?

The arrival reminded me of the times when I arrived with the family in Mali. Because once you land, another journey begins. An hour and a half on the road and thirteen hours on the track! (laughs) Little by little, the landscapes change, the ethnic groups change. There was obviously a security issue because the Sahel has become very dangerous. And if the fact of being accompanied by fifteen soldiers, two armored vehicles and plainclothes police officers reassures, their constant presence was also something of anxiety. But I didn’t want to be in danger. And the Nigerien authorities have been extremely rigorous. We were really immersed in this village lost in the steppe. The idea was to get back to your own pace but having a movie to make. So I was prepared not to shoot on this first trip, to just meet people. But Guy had left a magnificent mark during his travels: we were therefore welcomed with open arms by people who were already aware of the idea of ​​the film and of the potential drilling that could happen in the village thanks to our combined efforts. And they are the ones who prompted me to take the camera out right away. Two hours after our arrival!

Did you know before this first trip who you wanted to film?

Yes thanks to the images Guy brought back… but I obviously didn’t know what their reactions would be, if they would agree to let themselves be filmed. Houlaye, who is the central element of the film, was just one kid among others and when I arrived, she had no idea that it had been 2 months since I had in mind to film her and make him the main character of Walk on water. But she felt very quickly that I was looking at her a lot! (laughs) I took my phone to film it in the classroom. She was three quarters back. She turned around and saw me. There, his gaze in the screen of my phone overwhelmed me. I understood that my intuition was good because behind modesty, there was at the same time a great strength of character, a lot of sensitivity, depth, the candor of childhood, the maturity of the future adult. what it will become!

How quickly did you come back?

The synopsis I wrote with Ariane was based on the seasons. It opened with the start of the new school year and ended a year later, with the hope of a borehole. So that’s what guided my comings and goings, every two or three months for a year. Then there was COVID. So I was afraid of not having enough images for the story to exist. But I was able to count on the mastery of Isabelle Devinck during the editing which took place over a year.

What has evolved the most in the end compared to your original synopsis?

We stayed true to the backbone. But we integrated into it what we could not foresee: the other children who burst the screen as soon as they passed in front of the camera, the schoolmaster at this magnetic and charismatic point with a twirling sense of pedagogy. Obviously, we want to listen to him and spend time with him.

There is also the will to tell a happy ending. Why this choice ?

Yes that was part of the original idea. The film is part of an idea of ​​impact. To show how we can have a positive impact by mobilizing. This is why we worked with the NGO in charge of the drilling and also for this reason that we ourselves participated with the producers in the search for funding.

With the risk that on arrival it will not happen?

Yes. But we were determined. However, there are always unforeseen events: we recently learned that drilling work had been suspended in order to be able to complete the pipes in small villages. So as I speak, the water is not flowing yet!

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