On the occasion of the rebroadcast, Wednesday October 4, 2023 at 8:30 p.m. at the Cinéma l’Entrepôt, of the documentary BETTER centered on the story of Nassim Lachhab, we had the opportunity to discuss with the director Kamal Ourahou.

How was bord the idea to make BETTER documentary ?

I’ve always had this idea in the back of my mind since I was 12 or 13 years old, when I started filming skateboarding. It was in Rabat, Morocco, at the White Spot. I told myself that if one day one of the local skaters succeeded in realizing his dream of making a living from skateboarding, it would be crazy to tell his journey with the images I would have from that time. I filmed Nassim, but also other skaters such as El Mehdi Anys, Rachid El Khadraoui, Said Ibn El Kadi, Moncef El Harti, Ali Jbilou… There was an incredible vibe that emanated from the White Spot in those years- there.

Nassim ended up being the one who went the furthest. When he left for Europe, I continued to follow his journey, his rise, particularly through social networks. We also met regularly in Morocco in the summers. When he turned pro at Blind, it clicked for me. I said to myself: “There, something sick just happened! »I had a first story arc: from his beginnings to his new status. But I wanted the documentary to go further, to show what is beyond turning pro.

Ten years separated the period when I stopped filming skateboarding on an amateur basis at White Spot and when I started making this documentary. It was a necessary time. It allowed me to gain maturity, to have the technical and intellectual skills to understand this story, to articulate it, and to know in what tone I was going to build the project.

Did you have any references or documentaries that inspired you?

If we take films about skateboarding, my biggest reference is The Scars of Ali Boulala, which has not had the distribution it deserves in France, in my opinion. The documentary was broadcast at the Paris Surf & Skate Film Festival. In terms of processing archives and reconstituting a skateboarder’s journey, for me it is the best that has been done. Otherwise, long before that, there was a not very well-known short documentary film: Plank. The film centers on Nassim Guammaz and his relationship with skateboarding, but also on his identity as the child of Moroccan emigrants. With this film, I realized that such an angle of approach was entirely possible. With BETTER, I really wanted to make a film with both universal themes that could reach the general public and a film with a real skate spirit.

Otherwise, I was very struck by the cultural revolution started in recent years by Moroccan rap. The Naar collective, pioneer of this movement, left an impression on me: their artistic direction, their clips, the care taken in their communication… According to them, the current dominant opinion claims that we live in a post-cultural world. Of course, with the internet, all cultures influence each other to a great extent. But in reality, there are still many barriers and inequalities. Today, a European artist has no problem shooting a music video in the Maghreb. On the other hand, a Moroccan artist who would like to do the same thing by going to France, for example, risks encountering embassies, the difficulty of obtaining a visa, etc. Naar hoped to help make post-culturalism happen, for real. This vision inspired me a lot when I was preparing the documentary.

Moreover, there is a passage that struck me in the film, where Nassim describes this paradox: “Americans or Europeans can just book a flight and go wherever they want. It’s freedom. And the rest of the world doesn’t have access to that kind of freedom. You just feel like you’re stuck in your country (…).”

He speaks about it with a certain lightness. We are aware that this does not only concern Morocco. Other countries in the Maghreb, sub-Saharan Africa, South America and many others are experiencing the same difficulties. We are certainly not the most to be pitied. Nassim also says that he thinks that these obstacles strengthen us, push us to develop mechanisms to go beyond. And this while trying to enjoy life like everyone else.

There is a lot of resilience in Nassim’s character.

That’s it. It gives a certain relativism, a certain maturity. And when we experience happy things, we appreciate them all more. We don’t take anything for granted. We tried to infuse this spirit into the film. In the sequence where Nassim turns pro, he says something in Moroccan dialect that the guys around him repeat: “Alhayat m9awda!”. It’s a phrase that comes from the cult Moroccan film Ali Zaoua and means: “Life is fucked-up! “. But in Moroccan dialect, you can interpret it as both a negative and positive expression. It can be understood in both senses.

Throughout the film, we feel that Nassim is in an in-between place, between Europe and Morocco…

It is often said that for every immigrant, the big question is that of return. There is that in the film. We are both from Rabat and left the country the same year. Addressing these themes was self-evident. Nassim’s pace of life is conditioned by this. Both from an emotional point of view, when he needs to go back to see his family, to refocus, and from an administrative point of view, for his papers, etc.

I also wanted to suggest that his distance from the heart of the international skate scene may have developed his singular relentlessness and self-sacrifice. Depending on where you are born, you do not have the same starting point for your goal. This is a scale that should not be overlooked. Someone born in Lyon or Paris will have an easier time succeeding in skateboarding than someone born in Morocco.

In all of this, if Nassim has a lot of merit (it is undeniable), he was also lucky. He had a kind of disproportionate passion that he could only impose on those around him, then those same entourage gave him the chance to go to France. Once in France, he found himself in the right places, at the right times, he met the right people, etc. The film does not follow a meritocratic logic, we try to show things in their duality.

What difficulties did you encounter during the realization of this project?

Before leaving to shoot, I tried to obtain subsidies, I participated in calls for tenders and competitions, but nothing came of it. In the end, I felt like I was wasting my time. So I financed the film with my own funds, as the project progressed. Furthermore, it wasn’t always easy to set up dates with Nassim. Over the duration of filming, he went through a super intense period on several levels. But when we got together, it was for precious moments. Filming required a lot of improvisation and day-to-day adaptation. The key was to prepare as much as possible to capture these moments as best as possible.

What was the process of making the film like?

I started with a six-month writing phase, from September 2021. I did research, gathered as much information as possible, noted the locations, listed the people I was going to meet, etc. At the same time, I invested in sound and image equipment. I knew that the most likely thing was that I would shoot this film alone. I wanted the image and sound to elevate the characters, to highlight them, for my material to contrast with the more raw archive images.

There were sixty-five days of filming spread over a period of six months, almost two of which I spent in Morocco without Nassim, only with the locals. Then, there was a long sorting phase, because I had 46 hours of rushes in total. Then, I took care of the editing: there I felt that I was completely regaining control creatively. I disciplined myself to move forward methodically and efficiently. After editing, there was post-production throughout this summer. This is the time when I worked the hardest as a team. I realized that it was gradually becoming real for other people. That’s when you start to believe it.

Photo by Nadège Monge

Was your goal to be ready for PSSFF 2023?

Exactly. I knew that in September 2023 I wanted to present my film there. I was aware of everything I had put into this project, but had no idea how it was going to be received. You can never be sure of these things. You can miss the point. But I was a little confident. I’ve already done a lot of stuff before, I wasn’t launching myself into the unknown.

How was the reception of the film?

At PSSFF, the reception was crazy! We won the Best Skateboard Feature Film Award. I was super proud, especially coming from this festival which I consider to be one of the best related to the subject. Beyond the price, the moment was incredible! We sold out two rooms. During the film, there was a real atmosphere: there were a lot of reactions in the room, laughter, screams. Upon release, although the film focused on Nassim, people mainly spoke to me about emotions, proximity to the characters, the construction of the story and its tone. It brought together Moroccans, Europeans, internationals, skaters and movie buffs. It was also a real source of pride for the team, especially since most of them were volunteers on this project. We hope that it can inspire Moroccan creative youth, whatever their medium! It’s a 100% independent, system D film, but a lot of care and attention was put into it. And straight away he received a prize! With good intentions andchardwork, we can hope to make things happen. It’s like Nassim’s journey.

What are your next projects?

Apart from a part that I am preparing with El Mehdi Anys which we see quite a bit in the documentary, I plan to move away from skateboarding a little to explore other subjects. This documentary with Nassim was a way for me to close the loop that originally linked my passion for cinema and skateboarding. For the future, I would like to make clips with Moroccan artists based in France. I also have a documentary project on my family’s cultural heritage and two short film projects: a road movie and a nighttime horror film in the streets of Rabat. But, in the immediate future, I would like to take BETTER to as many festivals as possible and offer it on VOD platforms if the opportunity arises.

Thanks Kamal. Netflix, Amazon, you know what to do. Furthermore, BETTER will be broadcast again this Wednesday October 4, 2023 at 8:30 p.m. at the Cinéma l’Entrepôt Paris 14th. The reservation link is available here.

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